WaPo wonders: Did you feel "bullied" into signing up for a department store credit card?

Old and busted: Taking responsibility for your own actions. New hotness: Claiming “bullied” status because of a sales pitch. Department-store clerks have pitched revolving credit accounts at shoppers since I worked at Sears as a teenager, where I got a couple of performance awards for getting the most signups during promotions. Today, however, almost a third of shoppers surveyed by Credit.com consider themselves to having been “bullied,”and almost as many report caving in to the sales pitch:


It’s almost Black Friday and millions of Americans will flood into stores to buy their big purchases for the holiday season. But, as a recent Credit.com survey reveals, mounting pressure from store clerks to open store credit cards leaves many Americans feeling bullied while holiday shopping.

A survey conducted by Credit.com found that 31 percent – or three in ten Americans – feel bullied when the store clerk asks if they’d like to open a store credit card to receive a discount. And, customers aren’t a fan of the pressure tactic: Almost half (49 percent) regret their decision to open a store card during the holiday season and more than half (57 percent) of shoppers say they avoid returning to the store where they felt bullied. The November 2014 survey was conducted online among 1,320 Americans ages 18 and older.

Bullied? Seriously? Heaven help these wilting lilies if they ever have to buy a car or a house rather than a blender or a sweater. The cash-wrap pitch is hardly a replay of Glengarry Glen Ross, anyway. The stores pitch their cards in order to build customer loyalty, but they don’t want people walking away from their already-selected purchases either. I’ve been on the receiving end of these so-called “bullying” tactics for years without having some part-timer twist my arm into opening new lines of credit.

The source of this survey provides the context. Credit.com is a credit-management service that caters to those who feel as though they are not in control of their own finances. That’s a legitimate industry that helps a lot of people, but it’s also in their interest to paint consumers as victims of cashiers with daydreams of pin money dancing in their heads. Their business is helping people find control of their credit, so highlighting a sense of victimhood plays to their own sales pitches.


That doesn’t mean the rest of us should take this seriously, but the Washington Post’s Michelle Singletary does, even while acknowledging that a firm “no” is all it takes to deal with the pitch. “Even if you don’t feel bullied,” she writes, “you’ve got to have a game plan to avoid the temptation” of opening a revolving credit account to get momentary discounts. She then provides a script for shoppers to use:

The cashier says: “Sign up and save. If you apply today, you can get an additional fill in the blank with the percentage savings off your purchase.”

You say: “Are there any other discounts you are offering for the holiday that can save me money that don’t involve me getting more credit I don’t need?”

The cashier says: “It only takes a few minutes to fill out the application.”

You say: “But applying for new credit can result in an inquiry on my credit report, and that can lower my credit score. Do you think that’s a good deal?”

The cashier, undaunted, says: “You really could save a lot of money. Are you sure you don’t want to sign up?”

You say: “Correct me if I’m wrong, but getting new credit can lower my credit score, and that means I have to pay more for other things I may get on credit in the future, such as a home or car.”

This is probably the worst advice one could give in this instance. If someone wants to avoid the temptation of a sales pitch, asking open-ended questions for more information about the offer is the least effective way to do so. It’s an open invitation to the cashier to trot out an array of arguments designed to overcome your skepticism and wear down your resistance. It may not be quite the equivalent of a red flag in front of a bull, but it’s guaranteed to get the clerk salivating. After all, they certainly think that getting you to fill out a credit app is a very good idea … for themselves. Why give them the opportunity to extend their pitch at all?


Let’s try this again, this time with an effective strategy:

CASHIER: Sign up and save. If you apply today, you can get an additional fill in the blank with the percentage savings off your purchase.

YOU: No, thank you.

CASHIER: It only takes a few minutes to fill out the application.

YOU: I’m not interested in getting your credit card regardless of how long it takes.

CASHIER: You really could save a lot of money. Are you sure you don’t want to sign up?

YOU: I heard you the first time. I’m not interested. Either ring this up now or I’ll go somewhere else with my cash money.

This isn’t brain surgery. You are the customer. You are in control of the situation at all times. No one is required to buy merchandise they bring to a cash register — or for that matter, to keep a revolving credit account open. If you open one and regret it, close the account and pay off the balance. Save the whining about being “bullied” for those who are truly victims, rather than claim that status because you lacked the fortitude to withstand a silly sales pitch at the register.

Update: Corrected a grammatical error.

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David Strom 7:00 AM | May 18, 2024