Every time I write an article like "Five lies your TV salesperson will tell you," there's an outcry from the (very small) minority of salespeople who proclaim their integrity and sincere desire to help people find the right gear.
I do believe these people exist, but the problem is, how do you find them? Here are some tricks, tips, and steps to help you find the right salesperson.
Where to go
In most cases, we recommend buying online. If that's not your thing, your only choice is braving the noise at a local electronics store. The big-box retailers like Best Buy, Costco, Walmart, and the like have hourly employees. There is no incentive for these employees to actually know anything about the product they're helping you with. This isn't to say that all blue-shirted employees know nothing. Indeed, it's possible you might find one who's an avid CNET reader and keeps up on the latest tech because they're legitimately into it. It stands to reason that some people are drawn to work at a place like Best Buy because they're into the gear. This is what got me to apply to Circuit City many moons ago.
However, the odds are stacked against you. Chances are, the average employee at a big-box store knows little more than what's on the shelf's feature list or the basic notes the store supplies.
A better chance of finding someone knowledgeable is to seek out a store that has commissioned sales staff. This, of course, is wrought with its own perils, which we'll get to later. On a basic level, commissioned salespeople have an incentive to be at least fairly knowledgeable about the products they're selling. They need to know enough to convince you to buy a certain product.
Finding a store with commissioned sales staff is harder than ever, but smaller AV stores, many regional chains, and most custom installers work on commission.
If only there was some kind of shibboleth that could help distinguish the good salespeople from the bad, like if they pronounce LED as "lead" or HDMI as "headmy." Sadly, the only such giveaways are a little more complex. Check out "Five lies your TV salesperson will tell you" for even more detail about what you don't want to hear from your salesperson, but here are a few red flags that might pop up during your conversation that should give you pause (or a good reason to run out the door).
The most obvious trick in the book is trying to push you into a more expensive model/technology. As in, if you come in looking for the Panasonic ST60 and they try to show you a more expensive LED LCD instead. Since the ST60 is one of the best TVs we've seen, and picture quality-wise it doesn't have an equal from the LCD camp, be highly skeptical of this sales tactic. Most likely they're just trying to get you into something more expensive. You can even ask them if LED LCDs are better than plasma TVs. (They aren't.)
Ask them if the TV needs a "special" HDMI cable. (It doesn't.)
Ask them if you should get an extended warranty. (You shouldn't.)
Ask them if 600Hz is better than 240Hz. (It's just different.)
These should give you a general idea of the level of knowledge and/or honesty of the person you're talking to. If they try to sell you expensive HDMI cables, or proclaim the most expensive TV is the only one to buy, you should consider taking your money elsewhere.
On the other hand, most stores offer an extended warranty, so I wouldn't necessarily call this a deal breaker. Generally employees are required to offer it, so it's not their fault. If they push it on you relentlessly...well that's a different story.
The 600Hz/240Hz topic is tricky. I wouldn't fault most people (even salespeople) for not knowing the answer to that one. However, if they're adamant that one is better than the other, without explaining why they're different, that's just fabrication.
Not red flags
There are a few things that may seem like red flags, but probably aren't.
If the salesperson tries to up-sell you into a larger version of the TV you're considering, like the 60-inch version instead of the 50-inch, that's not a bad thing. Most of the time, people get a smaller TV than their room/seating distance can actually handle. (Check out How big a TV should I buy? for more info.) Sure this means more money for them, but the No. 1 regret from people who recently bought a TV is "I wish I'd gotten the bigger one."
Then there's audio. The sound in all new TVs is terrible. If the salesperson tries to show you some audio, be it a soundbar or full 5.1 audio system, check out what he or she is offering. Even a mediocre soundbar is going to offer better sound than the speakers inside most TVs.
There are good salespeople out there. There are people who take pride in their work, and want to help you find the best product. Unfortunately, these people tend to be the minority, grossly outnumbered by people who were just last month stocking shelves with 10-gallon mayonnaise jars, or worse, are just in it to make a buck, no matter what it costs you.
But remember, if you do go to a place with commissioned sales help, don't waste their time. These people don't get paid by the hour (unlike big-box store employees). If you find someone who's knowledgeable, reward them with your business. Don't waste their time and then go buy it online, or at least give them a heads-up that's what you're planning on doing. Maybe they'll match the price.
Got a question for Geoff? First, check out all the other articles he's written on topics like HDMI cables, LED LCD vs. plasma, Active vs Passive 3D, and more. Still have a question? Send him an e-mail! He won't tell you what TV to buy, but he might use your letter in a future article. You can also send him a message on Twitter: @TechWriterGeoff.