Mabel’s hovering and the Nook family’s suggestive selling is a retail nightmare.
After more than a decade of working in a retail setting where I sold expensive and luxurious goods, I know just about every sales technique there is, and I’ve used them. After all, who really needs to leave with a $30,000 opalized ammonite? That’s why, as I get away from the world in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, I can’t help but feel the sales squeeze being put on me.
Tom Nook is guilty of a great many sins if you ask the Internet and in New Horizons he might be the ultimate grifter. Nook hooks you by getting you to your deserted island; he reels you in with suggestive selling.
Suggestive selling is a sales technique in which you “upsell” the client into spending more money. This can be done by recommending a more expensive product, finding related products to tack on to the purchase, or otherwise getting them to part with hard earned dollars they didn’t intend to leave behind today.
This approach is used masterfully by Nook: What starts as an island getaway with a humble abode quickly mounts to a full time construction project. It’s a double whammy of selling as Nook’s apprentices, Timmy and Tommy, set up shop, supplying you with furnishings and clothes. Nook, ever the opportunist, uses this as his ultimate opportunity to heap upgrade upon upgrade to your home, providing more room (and in-game storage) for all your stuff.
“Mable will take shortcuts through the store to get to you as if she’s embracing that all blue hedgehogs gotta go fast.”
By the time you’re done you’ll be in to Tom Nook for over 5 million bells. He’s the consummate professional, certainly, but even Timmy and Tommy themselves have some sales flair worth noting.
Have you noticed that when you enter Nook’s Cranny for the first time each day that the two stop what they’re doing to greet you? One of the most effective tools to both increase our sales capacity and prevent shoplifting my team used was to greet every customer as they walked through the door, regardless of whether or not they were on their cell phone, or looking off in to another world.
Greetings come in all shapes and sizes. While a simple ‘hello’ paired with some eye contact can go a long ways I found two specific types of greetings did the heaviest lifting depending on the environment. The first is to recommend an action or point out a sale as the customer walks in. Our ice cream shop would announce the new flavour we just got in – give it a try, won’t you? – while a place like Shopper’s Drug Mart will direct you to their fragrance counter and announce the sale.
The second set of questions I found successful were “yes” response questions. When I took over management of our business we’d greet customers by asking “Have you been here before?” Most people say no – and now they’re thinking in the negative. I changed the question to “Is this your first time with us?” That question elicits many more yes responses; those that answer ‘no’ won’t be negative as they’re returning customers.
This technique of greeting everyone at the door happens exceptionally well in businesses like 7/11 and Edo Japan. I’ve seen employees at these businesses sprint to greet me, mop in hand. It’s clear this technique was added intentionally into Animal Crossing, and in addition to being used by Tom Nook himself irregularly, both Nook’s Cranny and the Able Sisters Shop employ the technique.
The twin tanuki will also follow you around the store making comments on every item you look at. They’re about as tactful as the teenage employee I had who went up to a couple inspecting a smilodon skull replica, loudly asking “are you gonna buy something or what?”
Timmy and Tommy also like to create a sense of urgency as they attempt the “now or never” close. You’ve experienced such a sales tactic when you hear a line like “this is our last one in stock” or seen a sign proclaiming it’s your last chance to buy, usually in capital letters, and with an explosion of sharp edges. Their pitch is exactly that: “those are in limited supply, so act fast if you’re serious.”
Mabel isn’t as pushy or aggressive as the twins–there’s no limit to the quantity of goods you can purchase as long as she has it in stock–but she does employ some of the same tactics.
Like the Nooks, she will greet you upon entry to the store, and proceed to follow you around.
She hovers like nobody’s business.
Just try and escape her. It’s impossible. Forget Sonic: She’ll take shortcuts through the store to get to you as if she’s embracing that all blue hedgehogs gotta go fast.
This hovering might have something to do with the industry Mable works in, mind you, as clothing retailers employ a slightly different set of tactics to get their sales and limit shoplifting. Mable’s presence is meant to evoke the feeling that she’s really right there helping us pick and choose outfits and try them on in the change room. There’s something to that, too, as research suggests loyalty to a good salesperson in high end fashion retail will mean loyalty to the store and lead to an increase in spending over time.
Suggestive selling is also a natural fit in clothing shops. Recommending popular items, complementary items, and flitting between giving not-so-honest assessments and the brutally honest, these vendors can work their magic in ways I’ve rarely experienced in other retail environments. Where else do you go in for a new pair of trousers and leave with a three piece suit with ties for every occasion?
There’s another good reason to hover: monitoring dressing rooms is a surefire way to reduce shoplifting. Mabel doesn’t take her eyes off you once you walk in the change room. Heck, if it weren’t for the fact menus in New Horizons are generally clunky, I might even opine that the fact you can only buy one item for each section of your body at a time is meant to enforce item limits.
Her sister, Sable, doesn’t always follow this same philosophy, but Mabel will swoop in to try and preserve the customer relationship nonetheless.
“The merchants are carefully designed to nudge you to spend more.”
Growing weary of the constant up-sell, the fluttering about, and the sales tactics, I was legitimately excited for the recent free update to the game. Kicks has reliably been my favourite salesperson because he’s just so chill: he’s happy to see you and if you choose not to buy any of his limited wares he is more than happy just to have visited.
Leif, an adorable sloth who sells plants and hates weeds, was a most welcome, laid back addition to my island in the same vein as Kicks.
Redd was not.
Redd employs something called hard selling — basically assaulting you with the sales pitch– placing immediate pressure on you to buy from the word “go”. The sales pitch is aggressive beyond compare as Redd pushes his first painting on you. You’re friends!–no, family!–and you must act NOW to buy this amazing painting lest you miss out forever.
You wouldn’t want to miss out, would you?
Redd’s willingness to both ask an extreme amount of money for the item and then his immediate capitulation, lowering it price dramatically, is all too emblematic of the direct sales types that haunt our doorsteps with a pitch for a new energy service or vacuum cleaner.
Only poor Flick seems disturbed by any of this. Flick has so little confidence in his ability to sell his art that it’s relegated to a secondary option he provides, one that even he doesn’t expect you to take him up on. His approach doesn’t even qualify as a soft sell because he’s not ingratiating himself to you, nor trying to occupy your headspace: Flick just doesn’t believe he can successfully sell you on his art, so it becomes a general shock to him if you support him. (Thankfully, his partner C.J. is more than supportive, actively trying to sell on his behalf.)
Nintendo’s slice of life simulator is widely lauded as relaxing and zen. The hooks it places into players are anything but: Indeed, the game’s core mechanic is following a consumerist cycle of working so you can buy more stuff so you can work some more then buy even more stuff. The carefully calibrated personalities of the game’s residents, particularly the merchants, reflect the addictive nature of such a cycle, and they’re carefully designed to nudge you to spend more.
That’s as true in Animal Crossing as it is anywhere else. Rather than being relaxed I’m finding that part of the game to be just another stressor. Instead, after a month of playing, I’ve largely focused on creating a complete museum and restructuring my island with the early and mid-game tools available to me. I’ve barely touched my house. My Happy Home Academy rating isn’t as high as it could be; neither is my Island Rating.
Sometimes the only way to beat the game is just not to play it.