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How to deal with ageist salespeople

| Financial services

For some reason, when you hit a certain age, those simple purchases that you’ve made plenty of times before, such as buying a car or shopping for a gift, suddenly seem to require an ability to navigate a patronising salesperson. At best you might end up grimacing through being called “dear” a few times, but at worse you could receive bad service or even get ripped off by an ageist sales rep.

According to BBC research, 1 in 5 adults in the UK believe they have experienced ageism, and the number was highest in the 55-64 year old category with 27% reporting to have experienced it. Common experiences found across studies included people speaking much louder and slower than necessary, speaking only to a younger companion and ignoring elderly persons altogether, asking if an older person is lost if somewhere not usually associated with the elderly, and giving an older person a demeaning nickname such as “dear” or “geezer”.

Is the salesperson trying to con me because of my age?

There are lots of misconceptions about older people, and younger salespeople might try certain sales tactics with you based on these assumptions. Here are just some of the tactics we’ve heard of being used on older customers:

The salesperson uses emotional pulls to try to secure the deal

“Well I’d hate for you to have to say no to those family days out with your grandkids simply because you’re not willing to go for a car with a larger boot”

Some people will ask about your family and lifestyle simply to be friendly or to help them recommend the best product to suit you. But sometimes a salesperson will assume that older customers are more sentimental than others and try to use this to their advantage to try to guilt or coerce you into a sale. If a sales assistant starts making presumptuous comments that make you feel guilty or uncomfortable then this is a red flag.

The salesperson changes the subject to confuse you

“It sounds as though you’ve done a lot of research into cost efficient petrol cars, but really we should be asking whether petrol cars are more cost efficient than diesel…”

We have numerous comedy shows to thank for the ‘easily confused’ stereotype that fuels a lot of ageist behaviour (think Grandpa Joe from The Simpsons) and most salespeople have a bag full of tricks designed to confuse people into a sale. One of the most favoured is a swift subject change.

To illustrate how this might work, let’s take the example that you’re looking for a car that doesn’t require much petrol to run. You’ve done your research and are making some strong points about the cars you have looked into, but subtly the sales assistant shifts the discussion to debate the pros and cons of petrol vs diesel cars with you. Now your points don’t quite apply to the argument anymore and you feel on the backfoot; are you right to still want that petrol car you researched previously, or should you be considering the diesel car that the salesperson is now leading you towards?

This is a tough trick to pick up on, but listen to your gut if you start to feel out of your depth or uncomfortable. It could be that the sales assistant is purposely trying to confuse you.

The salesperson uses ‘what if’ to worry you

“You might be happy with the basic model now, but what if you decide to travel more when you retire? You don’t want to regret not buying something a bit more robust…”

You’ve probably come across this tactic plenty of times before from store assistants trying to sell you those add-ons that are supposed to protect you in the future. The idea is to worry you that you’ll make a decision that you’ll regret further down the line, and ageist sales reps will sometimes play this card with older customers, under the presumption that they’re incompetent and reliant on others. Sometimes the concerns raised will be valid, and you will need to consider some ‘what if’s in your decision-making, but watch out for a store assistant who seems to be playing on your fear of making the wrong decision.

The salesperson doesn’t explore your options with you

“I don’t think we’ll find anything better than this one, shall I make you a cup of tea before we go over the contracts?”

Most sales assistants have targets and certain products that they’re expected to push, and so even if there’s a more suitable product available for you, they will steer you towards the ones they want to sell. This is a common tactic used on most customers, but sale assistants are sometimes more bold with this with older customers, under the false belief that the elderly are more easily manipulated. If a store assistant only shows you one product and seems reluctant to consider any others then this is a big red flag.

The salesperson throws in a free gift or an added bonus that you didn’t want

“We have a fantastic special offer on at the moment. Today only, if you buy this model then we’ll throw in a free MOT in 12 months’ time! You really don’t want to miss out…”

This tactic goes hand-in-hand with the previous one. The sales assistant will bombard you with information about a product, thinking you will be easily overwhelmed, and then at the end they’ll throw in a free gift to make the deal seem better than it is and manipulate you into making a purchase. Again, this is commonly used across all ages, but an ageist sales assistant might rely on this technique a bit more if they have stereotyped you as being easily confused or reliant on others.

The salesperson makes it personal

“I can see you’re a smart barterer so I’m going to pull some strings with my boss and see if I can knock £50 off that price for you…”

This is a very common tactic, and many sales assistants will stoop to it with older people, insultingly assuming that you’ll be grateful for the attention. The salesperson will act as though they’re doing you a personal favour when giving you a discount and will probably throw in a “flattering” remark for good measure. Sales assistants will only ever give you the offers and discounts approved by the company, so don’t be tricked into a ‘special offer’ for the wrong reasons.

The salesperson avoids answering your questions

“That’s a very good question, and I can basically answer it by telling you about ESC, ESP and DSC…”

This is the oldest trick in the book and one that you will have seen politicians use countless times during those election debates. The sales person is enthusiastically responding to your question, and seems to have lots of great things to say about the product, but they haven’t actually answered what you asked. Some will dance around the subject, some will steer their answer to a subject they want to talk about, but many will fill their answer with technical jargon that they assume older people will be unfamiliar with, in the hope that you will be too embarrassed to ask for clarification. If you ask again and still can’t get a straight-forward answer then you should ask yourself what the salesperson might be hiding.

The salesperson makes you feel rushed and flustered

“This bit isn’t important; you can read it when you have time later. For now just sign here and we’ll get you on your way…”

In particular this trick is used when it comes to signing contracts and/or handing over your money. The sales assistant doesn’t want to give you time for second thoughts or to change your mind, so now it’s a sprint to the end before you spot that hidden fee in the contract or start thinking about that cheaper car that you were considering an hour ago. Many salespeople will rely on their assumption that older people will be too polite to speak up, so be sure to take your time, read contracts thoroughly and ask questions if you’re unsure. Never worry about wasting a salesperson’s time.

How to deal with ageist behaviour

These situations can be uncomfortable, and it can be difficult to know how to assert yourself without causing any further embarrassment or losing your temper. Here are some tips on different ways you can turn a situation around and avoid bad service from ageist store assistants.

  • Prepare: The best way to avoid getting ripped off is to come prepared with as much knowledge as you can. This way you can make sure you’re asking all the right questions and looking in the right places for any red flags that you’re being conned. Checking review sites can help you find a reputable seller to begin with, and coming armed with a list of important things to check can avoid nasty surprises and will nip any “reliant and confused” stereotypes in the bud.
  • Reset the tone: While we appreciate that some younger people might be trying to appear caring and sympathetic when they put on that patronising voice, you should feel confident in resetting the tone if you feel you are being spoken down to. Respond in your natural voice and try not to let their behaviour distract you from your intentions. Most people will quickly pick up on their inappropriate tone and will adjust to match yours.
  • Assert yourself: Sometimes the shock or uncertainty that comes with being treated with ageism can leave you speechless, but reacting passively might reinforce their behaviour. If you’re being excluded from a conversation try asserting yourself in the discussion by asking a question that needs a response directly back to you. For example, “Thank you for explaining the benefits of your monthly payment scheme to my son. How would I set up the first payment for this?” Similarly, if you’re feeling pressured or think you’re being conned then don’t be afraid to be firm in asking for time to think it over or walking away.
  • Use humour: If you’re worried that speaking up about ageist behaviour will cause an awkward situation, then using humour is a great way to speak your mind without getting nasty. A good quip is also more likely to stick in a person’s mind and might deter them from using their ageist behaviour again in the future.
  • Be honest: We know it’s hard to believe, but sometimes people will simply not be aware that their behaviour is inappropriate. In these cases, a few firm but polite words can make a big difference. For example, if someone is specifically talking to you much louder and slower than others then remind them that you are not hard-of-hearing and can hear them perfectly fine without raising their voice. It might be a bit uncomfortable, but that should quickly pass and is usually successful in changing the offender’s behaviour.

What to do if you feel you have been mistreated

If you’ve suffered because of an ageist sales assistant then there are services available to advise you of your rights.

The seller discriminated against me and/or harassed me because of my age

You are protected against discrimination, harassment and victimisation based on your age under the Equality Act. If you feel that you have been illegally discriminated against then you can contact the Equality Advisory and Support Service for advice.

The seller used underhand selling techniques and/or misled me

The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations Act stops salespersons from using high pressure selling techniques, hiding important information or misleading the customer. If you can show that the seller committed an offence under this act and it influenced your decision then you have the right to end the contract and get a refund if it has been less than 90 days, to get a discount on the price paid, or to seek damages. The Citizens Advice Bureau will be able to assess your situation and advise you of your rights. 

I’ve been tricked into buying a faulty car

If you find a fault with your car or product within 6 months of purchase and cannot get a satisfactory response from the car dealer then your first point of call should be the Citizens Advice Bureau.  You have rights that require that the car matches its description, is of satisfactory quality, is fit for purpose and is roadworthy. If you did not buy the car from a dealer then your rights are slightly different, but you may still be able to take it to small claims court if you have proof beyond reasonable doubt.

Age Co over 50s car insurance is designed with your needs in mind and our team work hard to provide the best service for our customers, no matter whether they've just turned 50 or are still ruling the roads at 90! 


Age Co Car Insurance is administered by Ageas Retail LImited and brought to you by Age Co Enterprises Limited.


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