Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a sales associate for a luxury brand or department store? I’ve been a member of tPF for years, and reading how people talked about SAs has left me with a lot of mixed feelings. People often talk about us like we’re gatekeepers, the “deciders,” and it’s all very cryptic. In reality, we are just people; we wield some power, it’s true, but not as much as most customers think we do. So I thought that if customers knew the other side, they might change the way they see their SAs, and I also believe there is a lot in this industry that needed changing, so I decided to write this piece.
We don’t care how you’re dressed.
We really don’t. That being said, we know a fake bag when we see one, but in general, we don’t care if you come in sweatpants or a fur coat. You never know who will enter the shop and some of the wealthiest clients show up in gym clothes. We can usually tell how serious someone is based on them knowing a lot about the brand or having at least a general idea of what they want.
We do have favorites, and we spoil them if we can.
You don’t have to spend a lot to be a favorite, and truly a little loyalty goes a long way. Also, this may sound silly but simply being nice to us is really all it takes. We also remember who isn’t, and we talk. All the SAs (especially in department stores) are very connected, and we also communicate with our boutiques in other locations frequently. Also, many SAs have friends at other brands, so if you’re rude to someone at one brand, everyone else will know.
The job isn’t all that glamorous, and sometimes it’s dangerous.
Anyone who has worked a public-facing position knows it can get dicey at times. From mass shooting threats to individuals threatening us with hammers (among other things). I have personally been threatened after turning down advancements and even followed on a couple of occasions—it can get wild. The job is also very physically taxing. Long hours of standing wearing shoes not designed for our comfort (and cheaply made at that) has left not only myself but other SAs I know with long-term physical issues like knee and foot problems.
We hate following you around the boutique too, it’s not personal.
We get in serious trouble when theft occurs, even if it’s not directly our fault. Many brands have a strike system for thefts that happen under an SA’s watch, but that’s only for inexpensive items, if it’s a pricier item, we face a bigger punishment. We could very well lose our livelihood if something were stolen, and most of us live paycheck to paycheck. I highly encourage any shopper to talk to their SA while shopping because we are people, and it’s really awkward and uncomfortable for us too.
The pay isn’t all that great.
Yes, we may be selling thousand-dollar bags, but some SAs don’t even make $20 an hour, and some of the “nicer” boutiques don’t pay over $30 an hour. Department stores are notoriously the worst for paying the least and for mistreating their SAs. Most of the time, they won’t let us clock in when we are there and working 10 min early because they don’t want us working enough hours to be full time. They will threaten us with being fired if we clock in early or late. It puts us in a bad position because we want to get things done and be available for our clients. When you text us, and we aren’t working, we aren’t getting paid for that time, so we do what needs to be done regardless of being compensated. We were constantly threatened with termination if we clocked in even two minutes early. Some of us get paid commission, but it’s unreliable and not always as much as you think because of different commission structures.
We aren’t hiding things from you.
Trust us, we want to sell you things, that is our job. We have every incentive to sell you something. Most of us even make money when we sell you something. If we don’t meet our quarterly numbers, we’re often threatened with termination, so if we say it’s out of stock, we more often than not mean it. Very rarely are we allowed to “hold” things from stock, and when we say we will, that means we’re probably hiding it somewhere no one else will find it with the hopes you’ll come through. Maybe if you’re close to the other SAs you work with, they will try for you, but a sale is a sale, and we’re under a lot of pressure to deliver.
Looks are everything, and the pressure is real.
The company regulates everything about our appearance, and I mean everything from the color on our lips and nails to how we do our eye makeup and even the piercings we are allowed to have. There was a lot of pressure to not gain weight too, as we would not be given new uniforms if the old ones didn’t fit anymore (and we were only given two to three a year).
Lets talk about Commission.
Some ultra-luxury boutiques have a pooled commission system that is excellent because it motivates the shop to work together. Most boutiques work on “base plus,” which means you make your hourly plus commission (usually between 2%- 8%). Those are good gigs, but most SAs, especially those at department stores, work on “draw.” Draw associates have to sell their hourly wage before making a commission, meaning their paychecks are more of a cash advance from the store. When they are unable to make their hourly wage or get returns, they go into deficit. You’re not making any commission if you don’t sell your hourly wage plus your return deficit. The worst part about it? The hourly pay for these positions is usually painfully low, but it has to be that way, or else you could never sell more than your hourly wage. Making minimum wage and earning no commission because you’re in deficit can feel stressful and hopeless, especially because it is often not in our control. This is why returns can be so devastating.
Our discounts aren’t actually that good.
Well, this really varies brand by brand, but most SAs I’ve known have felt this way. Some of us aren’t even allowed to shop discounted or sale merchandise with our employee discount, and if we are, it’s usually just what’s left over after the sale has ended. To make matters worse, many of the damaged or returned items get destroyed rather than sold to us at a discount. I’ve personally taken blades to bags, and it is incredibly heartbreaking. Another SA once told me, “truth is brands don’t want us wearing their products because we aren’t the elite, so they would rather them be destroyed than on our shoulders.” Bleak right? There is some good news, though, not all brands are like this, and some SAs are offered pretty decent discounts; it really just depends where you’re working.
Some department stores offer special discount days called 20/20/20, where you can score 20% off plus an additional 20% off that discounted price followed by one last round of 20% off. It’s not quite 60% off, but it’s a great deal indeed, and sometimes you can get even more if the brands working with the department stores are generous to SAs.