I've only been inside a Tory Burch store once. I had to return a shirt, and was hoping to take the gift card and blow it on the online Tory Burch sales section (AKA "buy one earring"). My nightmare began when I actually could not figure out how to open the door, because it was an optical illusion. Why does a door need to be an optical illusion? To keep freelance writers out, that's why.
Once that brief humiliation ended, I stumbled into a very plush, very tiny, very empty "store" full of purses and single, back-lit shoes. A giraffe-like woman came out and asked me what I needed in a voice like an icicle, then took my return and vanished into the back of the store. While she was processing the return — and surely laughing with her coworkers about my scuffed Converse — some guy in a suit came out, looked me up and down, and frostily asked if I needed any help, with a subtext in his voice that read, "You touch one of these shoes, I'll have security in here so fast, so help me..." I got out of there as quickly as I possibly could.
A new study finds, however, that my treatment in Tory Burch wasn't just an example of style elitism. It may have been savvy acting on the part of the salespeople. If I cared more about Tory Burch, it's quite possible that the feeling of being snubbed would have let me to abandon all plans of shopping online and spend my money right then and there, just to feel…accepted.
The study, amazingly titled Should the Devil Sell Prada? Retail Rejection Increases Aspiring Consumers' Desire for the Brand, shows that when it comes to luxury items, snobby salespeople don't drive customers away. In fact, their snobbishness makes customers feel like they're back in high school again, desperate to win the cheerleading squad's approval. To be part of that in-crowd, the customers would do anything — and in this case, the way to those salespeople's cold, dead hearts is by swiping that credit card.
It's all about aspiration. Take a customer who wants to be the type of person who shops at Louis Vuitton, but isn't the type of person who shops at Louis Vuitton. That's an aspirational shopper right there. And those luxury stores are intimidating if you're not used to shopping in them. There are no sales racks, no piles of t-shirts, and security is watching you like a hawk. If you already feel out of place and unworthy, a salesperson who confirms that feeling through snobby behavior just makes you want to buy something, anything, to prove that look! You are the type of person who shops at Louis Vuitton and how dare they assume otherwise.
Who knows if luxury brands will start hiring snobbier staff to increase aspirational shoppers' discomfort and max out their credit cards, but based on my very limited experience with luxury shopping, I'd venture to say that salespeople in high-end stores are already doing an amazing job. Both my spontaneous dash into Burberry wearing a destroyed army coat and my peek into Hermès with a sick friend who kept coughing on the scarves have convinced me that salespeople at luxury brands will never be my friend and are pretty much just looking for a reason to stab me with the nearest stiletto. I'm not saying the Devil already sells Prada. I'm just saying he might make a cameo in the training video.