Business,  Marketing

How to Handle Clients Shopping Around You (AKA – doing their own thing and letting you know later)

As professional designers and decorators, no one is impervious to the client you have taken on shopping on their own, checking the validity of your prices, coming up with new products etc. etc. Here are some guidelines you may consider when this dilemma arises.


1 – First really zeroing in on the clients you are about to deal with is crucial. Using confidence and discernment, ask the right questions in the first appointment. This goes a long way in seeing whether they are your ideal client. You can’t be shy about bringing up why they want a designer. Is it just overwhelming what they think they need done? Do they tell you they don’t have time to figure it all out? If you see they are reasonably capable intelligent people who have made good choices up to now in their home, maybe they are simply lacking confidence in their choices and you will be bolstering their decisions as a consultant. Maybe the wife gives in to the husband as the more dynamic/less savvy decision maker and if she doesn’t have backup from you more design choices will be compromised. Ask about their budget for the project and have a ready response as to how costs (including hiring you fit in). Sticker shock sets in early and can stifle a project before you realize what is happening. Explanation about how you handle purchases (see point 3) will keep them on track and avoid them shopping around you. Remind them they are hiring you as a designer, not a shopper with an inside track. Many clients feel they are owed your design discount if they hire you. Be very clear on whether you will give them a discount and whether it is on just retail, split or simply included that as part of your fee. Be confident in the added value the client receives because they hire you and be ready to pull out these attributes versus an item price when this discussion arises. Once in the project, the clients will get input from friends and relatives who have better ideas (and jealousies), contractors with bad advise who don’t like designers and other designer “friends” who think they should have gotten the contract. How much negativity and defending your plan you want to put up with will determine how much to included in your contract and if you want to put in a clause that helps you walk away from the contract early and gracefully without losses.

woman with shotgun

2- How far into the project are you? Has a complete presentation been presented? Were both/all clients who have a financial stake in the project on board for all that you discussed? How many parts of the project were left in limbo to be decided later? Leaving an appointment with questions you can’t answer or phases undecided does two things: it gets the clients involved and excited about the design process and it leaves doors open for them to further try to “solve” design dilemmas on their own online. They may even stumble on more products they would like brought in. They will think they have arrived at the right conclusions (not knowing all the facts), think they have trumped your decisions and start wondering why they are paying you. Your early preparedness and forethought goes very far to ward off a client going rogue. Be very specific about line items that are crucial to the project and the reasons behind them.

contract with ropes

3 – Your goal in a design project is dual. You want a great outcome with a finished project. You want to get paid for what you have to do to get that great outcome. Even more important than point number 1 is whether you have a contract or Letter of Agreement in place explaining your role and how you get paid. It could state these options:
– That you receive compensation for time (your standard billable hourly fee) plus a percentage of products if they buy on their own. You explain that changes from original products, finishes, styles all disrupt the project timeline and have to be coordinated with specs and what else is happening in the rooms. If they order online, products can come in damaged or not looking like you thought they would and take up more time to ship back and choose another.
– That you allow for x number of emails of products they come across to review the specifications to see if they work. Over a certain number (if you even have an allowance) you charge for the research time with your hourly fee.
– Or you have two fees – one lower fee where you do all the purchasing, and one higher fee when their purchases are incorporated (with your approval)
– You could give them x hours for a review of x number of products and that is all.
– It should state who is responsible for what – what happens if products aren’t the best choice, delivered damaged or don’t fit. Put in a clause to how you will handle decision changes by the client. Also state what the consequences would arise as a result of changes and delays. Try to head off heated debate ahead of time with solutions to common delays in the timeline.

angel devil woman

You can’t determine every problem that may occur until you go through circumstances you never planned on. But once you do you will never forget to educate future clients how you will handle that situation should it arise. Trying to determine early whether a potential client wants a designer, shopper or consultant will also help you figure out if they are the customer you want or are capable to work with.

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