How to Tell If You’re Getting Bad Advice at the Hardware Store

How to Tell If You’re Getting Bad Advice at the Hardware Store
Photo: Nomad_Soul, Shutterstock

If you’re looking for some help from a hardware store employee, the advice you get can vary depending on the knowledge and experience of the person helping you. Most of the time, salespeople at hardware stores will offer good-intentioned suggestions, but sometimes even advice made with the best of intentions can be way off the mark. In addition to the fact that the training sales clerks receive from big brand stores may be more focused on how to get people to buy things rather than how to help them, sometimes retail workers simply don’t have the background to give you proper advice. Here’s how to tell good advice from bad.

Avoid advice laden with obvious sales tactics

First, if someone is offering you advice that leans heavily on the idea that more expensive fixes — or those that require more and more equipment or material than you planned to buy — are the only solution, that’s sign that the person you’re talking to is up-selling you. If you suspect this is happening, ask for concrete examples of how the tools or materials being recommended will make your project better, simpler, faster, or more long lasting in some way. Checking these facts can help you identify the motive of the person giving you advice.

Experience matters

If a salesperson is experienced at using a particular type of tool or material, they will often refer to this experience when explaining its advantages. This is a sign the person helping you has direct knowledge of the craft. If this is the case, you’re likely in good hands. Of course, it’s a red flag would if a sales rep claims to have direct knowledge of everything in the store — that only means they are likely inflating their experience to get a sale.

There are likely a few hardware store workers who have vast amounts of experience with a very wide range of products, but they are undoubtedly rarer than those who have some experience with a particular department or application, or maybe someone who knows a little about a lot. A salesperson who gives you an honest assessment of their own experience is more likely to be giving you good advice.

Ask why the add-ons are helpful

If a salesperson makes a strong case for a more expensive product, they should also be able to tell you about less expensive options. There are lots of good reasons to spend more money on a tool or material if you have specific needs, like for instance if you need something that is heat or cold resistant or if you plan to use a tool a lot. But if you need an extension cord to plug your cell phone into an outlet in your bedroom and you’re being offered weatherized, water-tight, tool-resistant shielding, you’re probably getting bad advice. Keep in mind how you will be using the product you’re looking for, and check to make sure it matches with the advice you’re getting.

Genuine mistakes happen, so here’s how to spot them

There are also sales people who are making a genuine effort but just lack the knowledge to help you. These folks can be harder to spot if you don’t know much about what you’re trying to buy. It helps to ask some questions in this instance. In this case, you can spot bad advice by asking for a second opinion. You don’t need to obviously fact check the worker in front of them, but you can quietly google what they’re telling you once they’ve finished their pitch. You can also ask them if they’ve ever used the thing they’re talking about or if they know anyone who has. If they’re genuinely trying to help, they probably won’t mind introducing you to a more experienced coworker. Retail employees deal with a lot of doubt these days, so kindness is a must if you’re approaching them for information.

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