One simply does not dare walk into a Chanel or Valentino boutique without real intentions to make a purchase and being dressed to the nines. It is not uncommon to be treated poorly or ignored by salespeople in expensive stores who do not think you are a serious customer.

Salespeople judge customers based on what they are wearing or the bag they are carrying. One Yves Saint-Laurent employee admitted that he looks at each customer’s shoes and watch and makes his judgments accordingly. Yet as luxury retailers are being hit hard in the recession, salespeople are starting to be nice to everyone and exchanging elitist, rude behavior for more helpful and hospitable approaches.

At Emanuel Ungaro, a salesperson offered to alter a coat that was on sale for 60 percent off, even though normally, sale merchandise is exempt of any further services. In the Ralph Lauren store, all of the employees offered assistance, as well as warm greetings. At Prada, the salesperson was nice even after the customer decided to “think about” the purchase. John Lobb employees got down on their knees to put shoes on a customer’s feet. Some boutiques offer still or sparkling water with lemons or limes to all customers.

All of these gestures result from tightening consumer wallets. Friendliness has not been part of the luxury retailing strategy for many years, but that attitude needs to change to make more people comfortable when visiting these stores. Some stores, such as Gucci, still seemed to be practicing snooty behavior though, with salespeople nowhere to be found when the customer goes to try on clothes.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why are salespeople practicing friendlier and more hospitable behavior?

Eric Wilson, “Economy Adjusts Store Relations on Madison Avenue,” The New York Times, February 18, 2009.