Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Getting Past the Carpet Sellers

One confronting aspect of the tourist part of Istanbul are the carpet sellers. The Istanbul Lonely Planet City Guide warned me, but I was still not ready for the reality of being stopped every few metres and offered carpets, souvenirs, shoe shine, food and tours. The sellers have a carefully developed technique of getting your attention, engaging you in conversation and then getting you into a situation where you feel you must buy something. After the first few hours of this I was ready to get back on the aircraft and never visit Turkey again. But after a day or so I got more used to to brushing off the requests, with a polite "no thank you", or six. Perhaps after a few more days I would have got to the point where I could simply ignore them and say nothing.

However much you may have been warned it is difficult to not react naturally to what appears a genuine, friendly and helpful greeting. This is a face to face version of the scams conducted on the Internet, which play on human reactions. A little like the ELIZA program which mimics human intelligence with a few stock phrases. The sales people have a set of stock phrases ready to respond to key phrases from the tourist. This includes standard responses if the person fails to react. After a while you can predict the exact response you will receive to any think you say.

If you are someone who can't help but stop to help a stray kitten, then it might be best to have a paid guide to protect you from carpet sellers of Istanbul, or go as part of a tour. Alternatively avoid the major tourist areas completely and visit the less traveled areas. In the markets where the locals shop you are unlikely to be bothered.

In a way the carpet sellers are just an extreme version of all sales techniques. The seller attempts to form a relationship with the potential customer. From the skeptics point of view this is just a way to make a sale. But a sales professional would say this is about ensuring the customer obtains satisfaction, which involves a personal interaction, not just an exchange of material goods. Web based e-commerce does essentially the same thing.

Systems such as find out about the customer either directly via an online survey, or by observing the user's interactions. The system then sends helpful information to the customer. If they do not hear from the customer for a wile, systems, such as, will send some product suggestions, based on the user's previous behavior. This is much like the carpet seller.

ps: After escaping the carpet sellers of Istanbul, my telephone rang. It was Tim Hopcraft from Logic Australia Pty Ltd. to say he had some new samples of some samples of interlocking flooring I asked him about for a flexible learning centre to ANU might be building. The new flooring has space to run computer cables underneath and a carpet square attached to its surface. Afterwards I realized that makes him a carpet salesman and so I had not escaped at all. ;-)

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