Help, I’m Being Held Captive by a Kiosk Saleswoman

She was so friendly and likable — and interested in me. I knew I was in big, big, trouble.

If I follow my instincts, my desire to connect will lead me to do a lot of stupid things ­— like believing salespeople when they are obviously working a mark.

That is why I’ve had to put policies in place. I don’t give money to anyone who solicits on the phone. I don’t sign petitions at the supermarket. And I never buy anything spontaneously from kiosk salespeople.

My policies saved me yesterday in my first shopping trip of the season. I was walking through the mall and was pulled over by a young kiosk saleswoman offering moisturizer samples. My policy forbids me to even chat with kiosk salespeople. It is a testament to this woman’s skill that she overcame it. And worse yet, I sat down at her counter.

From the moment I put my bum in the chair, I was in trouble. She was so friendly and likable — and interested in me. She asked where I am from, what I do for work and if I like it. I answered as if I were at a cocktail party, with brief but entertaining answers. My anti-kiosk policy was slowly drifting away.

Then she pounced. Would I like to try a skin cream that is better than Botox? I’ve been asked that question before and long ago realized this is something you say to people that appear gullible. I, for one, know there is no cream that is better than Botox. But, trapped by the hint of a relationship, I felt the need to be polite. I feigned interest.

Soon, she was rubbing goo on half my face, exclaiming about my surprisingly good skin and asking questions about my beauty regimen. It was long past time for me to declare my status as a non-buyer. I pulled my policy back into consciousness and repeated it several times in my head. Out loud, I was more tactful. I had spent my shopping limit for the day, I told her, and could not afford any products.

She was unconcerned. In fact, she only seemed to like me more.

“The truth is,” she said, leaning toward me, “you are my ideal customer.” Against my better judgment, I asked her why. “You are an attractive woman and you take good care of yourself. But more importantly, you are intelligent and open to new things. That is why I am taking time with you.”

I hate to admit it but I felt flattered. Part of me wanted to believe, and actually could believe, that the kiosk lady thought I was special. But the part of me that wasn’t born yesterday, the part of me that knew exactly what was happening, was shouting loudly, “Stand up! Walk away! You are being sold!”

And yet, I stayed. I stayed even as she told me that each small container cost over $100, and the full product “system” was over a grand. And I listened attentively as she explained this was a once-in-a-lifetime offer, extended only to a favored few. A few that included me.

It was as if a malicious program had taken over my mind, forcing me to act out the role of compliant customer. The saleswoman knew her role well, and every social cell in my brain wanted to play along, reflecting back familiarity and trust. I had to break the spell.

Soon, I saw my opportunity. As she slathered yet another product on me, she admired the cluster of slim, beaded bracelets on my arm. I quickly took one off and handed it to her. “You may have it!” I pronounced. “It is a gift!”

Her poise immediately broke. She looked horrified. “No, I could never take it!” she exclaimed, quickly putting the bracelet down on the counter. “Please take it back!”

“But I want you to have it!” I said. “I have lots of them at home. “

It may have been disgust in her eyes, or perhaps it was just confusion. But our relationship had changed and I took full advantage. I stood up, took my bracelet back, and thanked her for her time. I quickly walked away.

When I got home, I looked up the products online. I found them on Amazon, priced at $20 to $40 each. And even at this price, the reviews were negative. The most furious reviews were from people who spent hundreds of dollars at kiosks only to discover the Amazon prices later on.

Of course, I sympathize with these folks. May I suggest they create an anti-kiosk policy of their own? And pick up some giveaway bracelets for emergencies. They just might make the difference in escaping before the credit card is run.


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