Have you ever walked into a high end store and had the staff look at you like you were something that crawled out of a dumpster? You know the look — the slight lip curl, the almost imperceptible wrinkle of the nose as if some odour has offended. The “may I help you?” couched in a tone that wonders how you could possibly think you are worthy of the merchandise this fine purveyor … er, purveys.
You scuttle out of the store barely resisting the urge to back out so as not to offend the far superior personage with a view of your hindquarters.
Gucci did not make this bag for the likes of you, the lofty salesperson sniffs as you disappear, humiliated.
You vow never to return.
Or do you?
A recent study coming out of UBC says that the worse the staff at a snooty store treat you, the more likely you are to return and purchase their merchandise.
I know, right?
But the research doesn’t lie. Not only will you return, you will buy. Because if they actually deign to sell you their wares, then perhaps you measure up after all. You are good enough for that real Gucci bag, not the knock-off.
Think of it as a self-improvement exercise. You weren’t worthy of the merchandise on first try, but if you work hard, maybe the next time you will be. Maybe the sales associate will accept you. It’s a goal to aspire to.
The research says that you will exhibit this behaviour because you desire to belong to the this “brand community”. Because all the cool kids do.
Being rejected by the cool sales associate makes you harken back to high school when you were rejected by the cool kids. But this time, unlike high school, you have a chance. If you can just improve yourself to the point that you can swagger into a high end store and expect to be catered to by an obsequious staff, you’ve won. And so has the retailer.
In a nutshell, having unbearably pretentious staff can increase sales.
But there is a fine line. The product must be in demand. It must be considered just the thing. The brand must be instantly recognizable. We don’t want to be talked down to by just anyone. We will take a supercilious sneer from an Apple “Genius”. We will not accept the same from a kid in the electronics section of the local department store.
We will allow a nattily attired metrosexual to tell us that “Not everyone can pull off that shoe”. At a discount store? No. Just no.
We will allow a rail-thin sales associate who disappears when turned sideways to bite out, “We do not sell that in ‘large’,” as her eyes scan you with derision. We would take that nowhere else.
But once having been talked down to by these brand-name guardians, the research says we yearn for more. We long for the abuse, we are willing to be submissive to these arbiters of cool, in the hopes that someday we may be able to drop that brand-name phone into our brand-name bag and sashay out in those brand-name shoes.
Why does it matter so much? Why is a brand-name so important to us that we will take abuse just for the privilege of paying more than its worth? That’s going to require more research.
Carolyn Grant is the Editor of the Kimberley Daily Bulletin