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.

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Elna
Elna
8 months ago

The luxury system is really full of distortions, isn’t it. Not an efficient market. It is wasteful (bags gets destroyed), exhort bottom feeders to subsidy the company (own time to answer client text messages) and impose huge transaction costs on customers. The indiustry really needs to be regulated more.

C L
C L
8 months ago

Sad that “be nice to people” has to be said — everyone should have to work in retail or food service at least once in their lives to understand how physically and emotionally taxing the job is, in addition to being terribly paid. Then again, you shouldn’t have to have shared experiences to treat other people like human beings.

The other thing that I took away from this is how even when you’re being poorly treated and lowly paid, most people still want to do a good job and have their team succeed. Even if you aren’t going to buy anything, being (at a minimum) polite to SAs and showing that you respect what they do can go a long way. Thank you for sharing your story anon, and I wish you the best in your work!

Ed B
Ed B
8 months ago

Interesting article! Thank you.

Not myself but my sister happens to be “in the biz”, and while I agree with pretty much everything said here, the one thing that’s inevitable in every profession is that it DOES depend on the SA.

I know my sister, at the time in management main office for another luxury brand, asked me about my experience at a Prada store when I said I’d been, and I told her that I must’ve looked “bad” that day because I couldn’t get served in an empty store and the SA brushed me off when I asked to see a bag I’d come in with the intention to buy. I really DID look a bit messy that day, but nothing crazy (I think sneakers and baggy single-color dress). I hadn’t even been offended, I can buy Prada stuff online.

She still wanted to know and took note, saying she’d find out the name from the SM because it’s good to know employees she should keep an eye out on applications (a lot of them hop from luxury brand to luxury brand), because SAs that do selective service – for ANY reason – simply end up bringing the overall sales down. I was actually surprised, if I’d had to guess, I would’ve guessed SAs catering to the big whales would bring in a lot of money, because if he did care what I looked like, I assume he knew how to be, ah, “nice” to rich folk.

Sheila Maddy Loves
Sheila Maddy Loves
8 months ago

As a customer, I don’t know if I believe that all of these are true across the board. I imagine it’s very dependent on where you are.

On this comment “We don’t care how you’re dressed.” I don’t think this is true. The way I am treated in my local Chanel by the security guy outside the store varies significantly depending on way I am dressed. A few times I went to the Chanel store with my Gucci bag and I’ve been asked to check my laptop bag and lunch bag at the door. I’ve had to decline because I’m not supposed to leave my work laptop unattended. The next few times I went there carrying the exact same things but swap out a Gucci bag with a Chanel bag and suddenly I’m no longer asked to check anything at the door. I even asked if they wanted me to check anything and they said no. I’m also treated significantly better by the sales associates if I wear my Chanel bag vs. my Gucci bag. It’s not even like I’m wearing a Zara or no name bag, but a Gucci bag.
That being said, I’ve been treated very well at our local Van Cleef boutique even though sometimes I show up after a work out in disheveled workout gear.

Justine
Justine
8 months ago

Yeah I agree it definitely depends. I’ve been treated the best when I show up in the particular’s brands products.

Annie
Annie
8 months ago

I feel that this article doesn’t speak to all retailers, but it would be interesting to find out what specific retailer(s) the author is referencing. Based on my long term shopping experience some of this could be applied to Gucci, Chanel or Hermes. Or, is the reference targeting other retailers such as Bloomingdales? Macy’s? Dillards? Nordstrom? Neiman Marcus? Bergdorf Goodman? My point is that it feels like a blanket response to retailers, when one specific retailer may be referenced. They all have similarities, but mostly great differences and to be an “educated” shopper one needs to know the “rules” of the retailer.

Christina
Christina
8 months ago
Reply to  Annie

I used to work for Nordstrom and remember them treating us very well, good discounts and great commissions, no uniforms or requirements about makeup. But I didn’t work in one of those designer alcoves, maybe that’s different .

Starr
Starr
8 months ago

Please treat SAs kindly. It doesn’t feel good to see rude people sloshing their money around when all that money goes to corporate while the SAs often face the worst aspects of being front of house. Also, just like you, SAs are allowed to have a bad day, we are all people 🙂

Juju
Juju
8 months ago

I don’t know. It kind of seems like “anonymous” took the worst examples they have heard and piled them all into one piece. They may not profile customers to treat nicely or to follow around but plenty do. I think several of the practices she mentions may even be illegal (holding SAs responsible for thefts seems like a recipe for a massive lawsuit should someone get hurt or killed trying to intervene, for example). Finally, even on TPF there have been stories of SAs who don’t know their own brand, like the one at a Chloe boutique who kept telling a customer her bag was See by Chloe and not full-line, so I don’t believe every SA knows a fake when he or she sees it.

ZSG
ZSG
8 months ago

I have spent so much money at different luxury stores (Chanel and LV specifically). LV is notorious for rude salespeople and even if I’ve spent 10K at the store, I can’t get anyone to return a call to help me with a purchase. Denver and Las Vegas stores are the worst. That being said, I do not waste time when I come into these stores, I am specific with what I am looking for and 99% of the time, I follow through with a purchase. I think SA’s could be a little nicer as well.

Annie
Annie
8 months ago
Reply to  ZSG

I live in Denver and have shopped at the LV in Cherry Creek Mall for years. I’m confused what you mean by “Denver…”is” the worst”. I have never received poor service and actually the S.A.’s have been extremely professional, courteous and kind. I’m curious about your experience if you’d like to share. 😊

JES
JES
8 months ago

There are a lot of opinions about working retail and I’m wondering how many of the people stating those opinions have actually worked high-end retail on the sales floor for any length of time. A question was raised about SAs being held accountable and the legalities of intervening in a theft. The issue isn’t about intervening. Every retailer I’ve worked for as a SA has a strict policy about not intervening. The issue is about being watchful and attentive so that the theft is prevented altogether. If a theft occurs, the assumpition is that the SA wasn’t doing thier job and can be (and are often) fired. This practice is frequently unfair and unreasonable. Theives typically work in teams and send in multiple distractors who divert the SAs attention, and the mechanisms used to hide product are quite elaborate. I worked my way through college as a SA for various high-end and luxury brands and I can say that everything the author wrote is in fact true, although I agree that experiences seem to have been combined from more than one brand. As with anything, the people make the difference. Some are kind and pleasant, regardless of how they’re dressed, and others not so much.

Yazi
Yazi
8 months ago

I hate to say it but the way you dress certainly matters in how you’re treated, even if you smile and are polite to the staff.

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