Snobby salespeople sell more luxury goods

General view of the exterior of a refurbished Gucci London store in London, England.

When Groucho Marx once said, "I don't want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member," he might've been talking about a recent study: “Should the Devil Sell Prada? Retail Rejection Increases Aspiring Consumers' Desire for the Brand. Customers are more likely to buy luxury goods from rude, snooty, or aloof salespeople.  

When it comes to high-end goods, we want what we can't have, and a salesperson with a bad attitude only adds to the air of exclusivity.  

Darren Dahl, professor of Marketing and Behavioural Science at the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business, co-authored the study and says that the outcomes were based on a number of factors.

“…[I]t only really works if you aspire to the brand. So, if it’s something that you want and you don’t have. For the consumers that are regular luxury shoppers, this effect doesn’t happen,” Dahl says.

Another factor in whether or not a customer is swayed by rude customer service is the salesperson’s appearance.

“[The effect] also doesn’t happen if the salesperson doesn’t match the brand. If someone is selling Prada or Burberry and they don’t look like they should be there themselves, you don’t get that effect. You only react if someone truly represents the brand,” Dahl says.

Scarcity and exclusivity are two major components of persuasion psychology, but Dahl says that there is more behind the findings.

“When you come into a store and salespeople give you a dirty look, or they ignore you, or they essentially make you feel like maybe you’re not in the right store, if you as a consumer really want that brand, it’s kind of  challenge. [That’s] the way people looked at it and said, ‘Hey, I can afford that and I’m going to show you’,” he says.   

In the end, Dahl says that good customer service is always the best way to go. 

For one, non-luxury stores see no benefit from having rude salespeople, as the study showed that customers were not more likely to buy goods from a store that isn’t considered aspirational or prestigious. 

Also according to the study, people who initially felt driven to purchase from the snobby salesperson had, what Dahl calls, a boomerang effect.

“In the moment, you react and take the challenge and say I’m going to buy that product. But after you get home [and} you’ve been thinking about the experience … it actually turns out that you dislike the brand and the experience much more than the average person,” he says. 

 Have you ever been treated poorly by a sales associate?  How did you react? Email us or Tweet at us @LiveMoney

About the author

Candace Manriquez is a freelance producer for Marketplace.

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