Is Stupid better for sales assistants?

July 15th, 2006

Over at Marginal Revolution Tyler Cowen is suggesting that stupid sales assistants might be better for smart consumers:

Customers cannot talk for so long to a stupid person. So if you know what you are doing, you might prefer that the sales people be stupider. Stupid people will spend more time, in percentage terms, helping the already informed.

I’m not convinced. Firstly, smart people might break away from a stupid salesperson, but what about other stupid people? My experience has tended to be that the longest waits I’ve experienced waiting for help have been due to the other customers, and not to the sales person.

(I’m resisting the temptation to throw together some equations or a spreadsheet model of this).

I think the overall economics of sales assistants is simpler, but far more cynical. Good, knowledgeable sales people will, on average, require a higher rate of return due to the human capital they’ve built up. Bad sales assistants on the other hand will not require as high a wage. Businesses will only hire a good sales person if they provide a better return than the bad ones, and I suspect that’s not the case – as Tyler says, any idiot can point out where the batteries are.

(And, I suspect, there’s a bit of a premium on stupidity and dishonesty in some areas of commission sales).