Handbags occupy a unique place in fashion; they sit at the crossroads of art and commerce, and if brands want to succeed, their livelihoods often bends on how good they are at getting consumers to buy their bags, which have a much wider potential market than designer clothing. As it turns out, one of the best ways for designers to manipulate a customer into doing just that is to snub them in stores, according to some forthcoming consumer research from the University of British Columbia. Maybe that’s why service is so rude.
UBC’s research found that consumers react to snotty service in much the same way that kids often do to the popular group in high school – they resent it, but they also want to be accepted by it. In a retail environment, that often means “buying in” in a very literal way. After all, how can a sales associate assume you’re poor and tacky if you’re buying something fancy while simultaneously providing a little bit of his or her paycheck?
The study has a few caveats. First, snobby sales associates only increase consumer desire for luxury brands; bad treatment at lower price points simply turns consumers off.
Second, it only works at first; unfriendly service seems to motivate new customers to try and join a club that would rather not have them, but there are diminishing returns on future visits and regulars eventually expect courtesy and civility in exchange for their patronage.
Third, the sales associate has to look the part; if the SA isn’t a walking, talking, plebeian-snubbing manifestation of the brand’s aesthetic, customers apparently don’t feel puny enough to justify buying a little bit of acceptance.
That last part would seem to suggest that these tactics are more effective in a focused, branded boutique setting than in a large, less personal department store.
Exhausting mind games like these are likely a significant part of why online luxury retail is an ever-booming business, but for those of you who prefer to shop in-store (or who shop brands that require you to show up in person), it’s something to remember the next time an associate looks you right in the face and then walks in the opposite direction.
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