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8 Tips for Dealing with Pushy Salespeople

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Unless you make all your purchases online, you'll probably have to interact with a salesperson at one time or another this holiday season. Although most salespeople don’t try to intimidate or manipulate you into buying items you neither need nor want, it helps to know how to handle the ones that do. Whether you’re shopping for a car, gym membership, or toaster, here are eight tips for dealing with aggressive salespeople.

1. DISTINGUISH BETWEEN ASSERTIVE AND AGGRESSIVE.

There can be a fine line between being assertive and aggressive, and it's up to you to distinguish between a salesperson who’s annoyingly overeager and one who will say anything to make a sale. If you’re waffling on whether to make a purchase, an assertive salesperson may provide more information or respectfully ask you what he can do to help you make your decision. An aggressive salesperson, on the other hand, may threaten to revoke a discounted price, complain that your indecision is wasting his time, or refuse to accept that you don’t want to make a purchase.

2. BE MINDFUL OF YOUR EMOTIONS.

Good salespeople are skilled at reading customers’ emotions and examining their body language to determine if they’re going to buy an item. But aggressive salespeople can use this skill to manipulate customers into buying something they don’t really want.

Depending on the product they’re trying to sell, salespeople for insurance plans or gym memberships may try to persuade you by capitalizing on your fears about death, money, health, or vanity. When you’re speaking with a salesperson, pay close attention to your emotions and listen to your gut. Watch out for salespeople who sound phony when they make small talk, reveal too much personal information (to try to become your friend), or make you feel guilty about not buying a product.

3. PRESENT A UNITED FRONT.

If you’re shopping for big-ticket items such as a car, boat, or house, salespeople may try to pit you and your spouse against each other. Beware of salespeople who try to physically separate you from your spouse, coax you to agree to a higher price than your partner, or appeal to your spouse’s sense of manhood or womanhood. Before you go shopping with your partner, decide on your budget, buying strategy, and any non-negotiables.

4. DON’T FALL FOR ARTIFICIAL DEADLINES.

To try to close a deal, aggressive salespeople often put time pressure on a customer. By giving customers made-up deadlines, salespeople exploit impulse buyers and appeal to customers’ fear of missing out on a good deal. To be sure, some stores run legitimate limited-time sales that put true deadlines on customers. Generally, though, if a salesperson tells you that you must buy an item now, and says that you’re not allowed to take time to think about it or do more research, consider that a red flag.

5. REGISTER YOUR PHONE NUMBERS ON THE DO NOT CALL REGISTRY.

Some salespeople (and scammers) make cold calls, hoping that someone they talk to will buy their product. Register your home and cell phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry to stop receiving telemarketing calls. But keep in mind that some telemarketers will still call phone numbers listed on the registry, so file a complaint or block their numbers. If a salesperson somehow gets you on the phone, politely tell her that you’re not interested and you want to be removed from her call list. Don’t feel guilty about cutting her off, not answering her questions, or hanging up.

6. BE MINDFUL OF COMMISSIONS.

Some salespeople earn a percentage of every product they sell, and this potential to make a commission can turn salespeople into predators. Be aware that a car salesman who’s telling you why you’d be foolish not to buy an extended warranty or a bridal consultant who insists the dress isn't complete without a veil may earn a commission on every add-on he sells. Take time to do your own research on the product you're buying in order to take the salesperson's advice with a grain of salt. And when you're making a big purchase, it doesn't hurt to bring along a friend who can offer a second opinion; this way you don't need to place as much trust in the salesperson's praise ("That dress looks perfect on you!") or fear tactics. (On the flip side, if you have a good experience with a salesperson who is likely earning a commission but need to take some time to think, be sure to ask for her by name when you return to the store.)

7. DON’T BE AFRAID TO REPEAT YOURSELF.

Pushy salespeople know that their persistence can wear you down and break your resolve. If you don’t want to buy something or need more time to think, be firm—and use unequivocal terms like "I don't" or "I won't" rather than "I can't." Politely tell the salesperson that you’re not going to make a purchase, and repeat yourself if they keep pushing. Most “people pleasers” will find it challenging to hold their ground, but remember that your first priority is to yourself, not the salesperson.

8. HAVE COMPASSION.

Aggressive salespeople are simply trying to do their job to the best of their ability, so don’t take it personally if you encounter a rude or forceful one. Even if a salesperson annoys or frustrates you, try to be polite and calm. Be firm if you’re not interested in what they’re selling, and ask to speak to a different salesperson or leave the store, if necessary.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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