Why do Japanese shop assistants know so little about their goods?

I’m hardly the first person to mention this, but I’m still regularly flummoxed by this huge hole in the otherwise incomparable Japanese service ethic. A couple of examples:

The girl I was buying my mobile phone from looking up the answers to my questions in the exact same booklet that she’d given me earlier.

A guy in Yodobashi replying to my questions about the differences between two irons with the shrug and then with a simple “Oh yes, you’re right” when I pointed out that the cheaper one rather worryingly had no temperature control. And the conversation ended there…

I know Japanese students don’t ask many questions, but I often read that Japanese consumers are some of the most demanding in the world. Doesn’t that include asking questions, and if so why aren’t the staff prepared to answer them?

Maybe they believe that giving no information is better than giving wrong information. Or maybe apologising takes up all their training time and using those apologising phrases makes up for a complete lack of info…


  1. crella said,

    February 11, 2012 at 4:21 am

    This is recent, and it drives me crazy. Years ago, the people in a shop could tell you about all the differences between two TVs or irons, maybe the younger kids now don’t think it’s worth memorizing all that. DH hates to ask a question and have someone pull out a manual. To older Japanese, it just reeks of not caring about your job. The actual reason? I don’t know…

  2. February 15, 2012 at 2:06 am

    Just went through this a couple of days ago.
    We’re shopping for a Blu-Ray player, looking at three models. Shop assistant comes, ask if we needs help. We’d like to know the basic differences between those three models (roughly the same product, but three different brands). The guy has no clue. So he scans the bar-codes, looks like he’s thinking hard, and doesn’t come up with any worthy answer.
    Or when customer service becomes a waste of everybody’s time.

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