Recommending things you yourself don't like

The protagonist of my story encounters an interesting dilemma near the beginning. Is it okay to recommend something you don't like?

I had a Saturday job at Primark while I was a sixth form student. I was always on the tills. Now there were these tea towels that I thought were just nasty. They had such poor stitching, and strikingly hideous colours, bright pinks and reds and yellows, with generic teddy bears or cupcakes, or silly meaningless phrases like "keep calm and eat cupcakes" and "I'm walking on sunshine".

Now I know, I know, I know what you're going to say. It's completely subjective! Well I think you'd be right there! I recognise that. I also think it's important to recognise that a lot of people buy these things at Primark because they are not willing/able to spend lots of money on a tea towel. But perhaps the fact that many varieties of the tea towels sold so poorly until they were reduced to clear, makes it fair to assume that most people would agree with me that they were not nice products.

There was this one manager I had, who often would come behind the tills and instruct all of us to say, "can I interest you in a set of these tea towels? They are on sale today," to every customer coming to our till. 

I used to think this was unnecessarily embarrassing for both the customer and myself (not the only embarrassing thing about working at Primark might I add - I remember they made you wear these nasty black uniforms. Just why? Why oh why Primark? Oh how I longed to be able to wear t-shirts and jeans like they did in the H&M down the road!)

It's difficult to put my finger on the exact reasons why this was so embarrassing. Partly because I felt like it was annoying the customer. Partly because I thought the products were just so bad, that I thought endorsing them might have implications on me. Maybe it was just awkward to be rejected. And also, it's always awkward when you make a stranger feel awkward.

But back to my original question. Should I recommend something I myself hate? Well at Primark it wasn't really my job to recommend products. All I needed to do was to take payments for them. So I avoided asking customers if they were interested in the tea towels, only asking when the manager was nearby, or if she moaned at me for not selling as many tea towels as my colleagues.

But instead, should I have discouraged customers from buying these tea towels? I never did. I'm sure many would say that you shouldn't interfere, and that you should allow customers to make their own choices. It's only based on your opinion after all. But then again, I don't think it's always necessarily an arrogant thing to insist that you know what is best for someone else. I'm sure for subjective things like tea towel designs it would be arrogant. But if we look more broadly at humans, I would argue that you could, without arrogance, think that someone's lifestyle choices are 'objectively' wrong. Examples might include smoking and doing little/no exercise. With the risk of derailing the topic too far away, I will conclude this train of thought with this point. This question and my view point to the idea that there are objective rights and wrongs, and that is contrary to the post-modern worldview that is held by many in society today. 

Anyway, I wonder what the manager's motivation was. I would have thought that she wanted to meet sales targets. To make more money for the company through the improvement of her department's performance? The implications of that for her career prospects and pay were bound to be a motivation. Now that I think about it though, I think if she was asked, she would have said that she wants to improve customer satisfaction and supply them with something they like. Just because we would never buy something doesn't mean nobody else would. None of us are the same. Customers may love the colour. They may think it's great value.

Truthfully though, was that the main purpose behind her instructing us to encourage customers to buy our tea towels? I assume not. I assume she was primarily interested in the career/monetary benefits to herself - my assumptions are just assumptions of course, based on my perceptions of her and the other managers, which I developed on the job. 

Contrastingly, what about me and everyone else behind the till. What was the reward for shifting all your tea towels? A fully replenished pile of tea towels? Well hooray! 
We were paid the same amount regardless. There was no hope of a promotion for me either. 

So finally, that has led to my final question: do people ever do anything that is of no benefit to themselves? If my manager would not benefit from people buying more tea towels, would she hassle us to sell them? And more personally, would I be a more enthusiastic salesman if I too benefited from customers' poor spending decisions? 
It makes me shudder but The Apprentice comes to mind, in which some of the contestants show that they would do virtually anything to win Alan Sugar's investment. In the show, at times it's like all that matters is that you win the task. Even if you sell people really crap stuff, and for a ridiculously high price; whether your customers are rich or poor; milk them for as much money as possible, otherwise, you're fired!

Well wow - the idea that every successful business person actually thinks like this paints a pretty bleak picture of the world of business in my opinion.
But no, I would suggest that we can do things for the good of others (even if we don't benefit). Now I must stop, for I know that one could write a whole book discussing just that sentence. I'll leave qualifying it for another post.