Rude salespeople make you buy fancy things

Here is a new result, although it is based on surveys rather than market data:

It’s no secret that salespeople at upscale shops can be a little snobbish, if not outright rude, the researchers note. Consumer complaints recently have pressured some luxury retailers to train their staffs to be more approachable; Louis Vuitton even went as far as decorating the entrance of its Beverly Hills store with a smiling cartoon apple in 2007. But if luxury retailers want to continue to rake in the dough, they actually should do the exact opposite, the study found. The ruder the salesperson the better.

In four online surveys, Ward and Dahl had participants imagine interactions with different types of salespeople under a bunch of different conditions. Variables included the imagined store’s level of luxury, the extent of the salesperson’s haughtiness, how well the salesperson represented the store’s brand, and how closely participants themselves related with the brand. The results:

  • Rejection makes people want to buy luxury goods. A salesperson’s condescending attitude has little effect on consumers’ desire to buy more affordable brands like Gap and American Eagle, though.
  • Rejection is stronger when salespeople convincingly embody brands in the way they act and dress. Sloppy salespeople aren’t as intimidating. 
  • People who really want to own a particular brand are even more influenced by rejection. Instead of switching their loyalties, customers just become more attached.
  • Rejection works best in the short term. While great at pressuring people into buying something in the moment, dismissive staff may still alienate customers in the long run.

The results fall into a long line of research that demonstrates the extent to which rejection can jar our fragile self-conceptions.

The article is based on:

…a forthcoming study in theJournal of Consumer Research,Morgan Ward of Southern Methodist University and Darren Dahl of the Sauder School of Business…

The pointer is from Roman Hardgrave.


I wouldn't have guessed, but in hindsight of course makes sense.

Wonder how the long term vs short term shakes out. Given the emergent properties of salespeople in these shops, we presumably already have our answer.

A lot of expensive women's clothes stores go out of their way to drive fat customers away -- they project the wrong image.

My very overweight mother-in-law, who is also very wealthy, was often treated very poorly on shopping trips to high-end stores all over the world. She still spent tens of thousands of dollars routinely at one store or another. Once she walked into a watch store and walked out with six Patek Philippes. I just about fainted.

I used to have a minor argument about this with her constantly. She'd say "If they all knew how much money I had, they'd treat me like the queen" and I'd say "The amount of money you have doesn't matter. You don't fit the image they want to portray of their clientele. All this luxury stuff isn't about the actual 'peformance' value of the product, but that of image and exclusivity. My Hong Kong-made sports quartz watch keeps better time than your Swiss mechanicals."

My own personal experience varies. In Seattle, once famous for grunge, I was treated very well at exclusive stores and restaurants even though I often wore extremely casual clothes. I befriended a locally well-known upscale restauranteur and he told me that he trained his staff to treat very courteously everyone who walked in because "that shabby-looking guy could be somebody important in the tech industry."

In Washington, D.C., the same type of clothing drew gazes of contempt from shops and eateries. So I started wearing my work clothes (mostly Neapolitan-tailored suits and English-made boot and shoes) and - voila! - I began to be treated well and even drew obsequious remarks ("Those are exquisite shoes, sir!").

My wife, who thankfully is very slim but dresses plainly like her mother, used to believe that wearing modest clothing would be more likely to garner discounts. She never got any. I'd show up dressed well and would get discounts. When she asked me about it, I told her that she dressed like that one luxury product was going to be the first and the last one she'd every buy, so the sales person had no incentive to give her any. Meanwhile I looked like I'd come back and buy more (even though most of the time I didn't). I don't know why so many people seem to have the view that she did. Is it because of that Cosby Show episode where Dr. Huxtable tried to dress like a poor person in order to get a better price at a car dealership (he was exposed when an acquaintance ran toward him screaming "Dr. Huxtable, Dr. Huxtable!")?

Great post, Belisarius.

Thank you.

Thanks for giving me another reason to resent DC. My meager experiences with the city caused me to develop a sensitivity to its atmosphere.

Don't feel bad. DC, like LA, is a town of whores... as kids say, literally. Men sell their souls for a mere glimpse to proximity to power and women sell their virtue. Was it James Carville who said that politics (DC) is show business (Hollywood) for ugly people?

Belisarius... Rings a bell. Are you a Count?

What can I say? I admire "The Last of the Romans." Or Byzantines. I have a soft spot for the likes of him and Wallenstein.

I am not a count, sadly. On the paternal side, I come from a family that was once baronial, and I am the last remaining male of my line, but alas the titles and property were abolished a long time ago. On the maternal side, I count an emperor as an ancestor, but my mother's family is a mere cadet branch of a cadet branch... which all means diddly squat today. In America, I am just a suburban-living, SUV-driving, iPad-reading middle class slob like everyone else. What makes me perhaps a tad better off than some is that I married well.

I suppose I could say that my wife and I are a perfect BoBo couple (per David Brooks). My family has status but no money and hers has money but no status. And the children will probably have neither by the time my wife and I are done.

I have to quote you! This is fantastic!


Tread mills and salad bars.

It would be pretty easy to do with sizing. Just don't stock the "wrong" sizes for your brand.

Turns out Ali G was correct. We can't have a woman president because a rogue dictator will treat her like a bastard and she'll just fall in love with him.

Well, there might be a lesson for the Republican party... As Democrats have become increasingly radical in the post-Clinton years (Bill would make a decent Republican presidential candidate these days), the Republican party pushed to be more inclusive and engaging with the middle, generally nominating moderates (yes, those were the moderates). And it seems to have completely failed as a strategy. The softies still get called names and made out to be far-right, and they don't seem to capture the middle. Maybe the party should act like luxury brands and toughen up?

Please please please run Rick Perry for pres.

TC seems to have forgotten his closing line - "But you peasants are far too dumb to understand my gems of wisdom tossed like pearls before swine".

There, that should be worth a few votes in the Econ Blog Awards.

What a bunch of hogwash Mood affiliation

So, The Neg gets babes _and_ bling. Interesting...

Where is the study?

the link to the newspaper article says just the opposite:

"Putting customers at ease is becoming much more important for the famously snooty luxury-goods sector as more high-end retailers broaden their offerings (think Prada legwarmers and Dior sunglasses) in order to reach a wider audience. As they democratize, many luxury companies are finding there's a fine line between positioning themselves as lofty -- to signal just the right amount of exclusivity -- and being so haughty they alienate their customers"

I think you also have to think context: is the store in a consumer traffic area likely to attract tourists, rather than serious shoppers. Snootiness may be just a way of not spending time with gawkers, so you can spend time with those who are likely to buy.

It sounds like the story of how Burberry, a brand I associate with Saul Bellow, became the favorite of English chavs.

Maybe snootiness is a leading economic indicator.

From an article, in 2009, of how and why luxury goods manufacturers are becoming less snooty and why:

"Angel Yimsiriwattana still remembers feeling intimidated when she walked into a Chanel boutique in New York two years ago.

When she approached a salesman, he “was snooty and reserved,” she says, and barely spoke to her. Clad in a casual sweater and jeans, she figured the sales staff sized her up as someone unlikely to buy. Even though she spent $7,000 that day, she still felt unwelcome.

The atmosphere is a lot different at the Chanel boutique in Soho these days. On a recent visit to the same store, the 27-year-old says she was treated like a princess. “As soon as I walked in, [the sales associates] were smiling and said ‘how are you?,”‘ she says. “Everyone circled around me like little fish. They were extra nice and helpful.” Even though she didn’t buy anything, the sales staff cheerfully wished her “a nice day” as she walked out of the store.

As the luxury goods industry suffers a massive slump in sales – many sales clerks at designer stores who were famously haughty and patronizing suddenly have changed their styles. In the boom times, the aloof service was part of the exclusive aura cultivated by some brands, sending a message that only the coolest or richest customers were worthy of a purchase. Now, “that arrogant and snobby attitude of feeling people should be grateful to buy at their temple is a dinosaur mentality that is going extinct,” says Milton Pedraza, chief executive of the Luxury Institute, a consumer-research firm. “Now those brands have to be grateful for a customer.”

Here is the link:

Rude people makes you buy fancy things? Security guards for luxury store? The US is so primitive sometimes.

Here in Manila, Philippines, which has some of the largest malls in the world (since 30M people packed into a city smaller than Washington, DC), the staff is polite, ignorant, and there are security guards with shotguns, no safety on, on every corner, since lots of cash around and gangs sometimes steal things en masse. Today, Sunday, I just spent a day shopping at one of the mega malls with my 20 yo gf as a reward after a nice morning with her.... Did I mention she's 20 yo and hot? Body to die for. It's more fun in the PH.

Re Manila density: I'm talking greater Manila packed into greater DC (including the 495 beltway). Density en masse. Two hours just to travel across town 20 km during weekdays. Sometimes walking is faster than driving. Hence huge malls make sense--no need for a subtle "boutique feel" here. And politeness is a survival mechanism: imagine getting bent out of shape over every small transgression with so many people around. Besides, nobody understands rudeness here, they just think you are crazy and arrogant if you are rude and don't even blush, unlike in the USA where they make a big deal over it or feel upset. Another thing I like about this place.

In this thread: Ray "I live in Manila and know all about it" Lopez claims that Manila has a population density of over 188,000 people per square kilometer. Which it does not (nor does anyplace else)

But after reading the second half of the post, I wonder if it's just someone trying to make him look more ridiculous.

@Careless--I never made the claim of 188k people/ km2, that is your estimate, but at least you refrained from commenting about my 20 yo gf, lol, good for you as you have more self control than most. Google is your friend here Careless: (43k people per sq. mile, which is for the city proper, which has parks, and your estimate is only 4x larger). Consider that Greater Manila is not the "city proper" and that 30% of the 100M people here live in Greater Manila, and you'll see I am more right than you think.

Ray Lopez boasts so much about his young hot gf, that I have come to wonder if he's not talking rent boy.

The malls in Manila suck. All the stores are way overstaffed and, at least if you're white, there is a good chance you may die from suffocating level of what they think must be helpful service.

Also, if you want any stuff of decent quality, you're paying U.S. prices. I do like the interesting snack foods, and of course there is always Ukay Ukay if you want cheap clothes.

Who would have ever imagined that feelings of inadequacy would drive people to purchase status signaling baubles?

That's a rather sad statement about the the people shopping at these places.

I'm not sure if the poll was not made among the people who buy at those places or the people who aspires it.

Why are the standards for this sort of research so low? The personal experience of someone who has worked for a number of years as a salesperson at a high end retailer would probably be far more insightful. If this journal is actually interested in consumer behavior, why do they publish this pathetic crap written back academics rather than seeking out people who actually observe consumer behavior first hand every day? Equally disappointing is that my fellow commenters seem willing to accept this "evidence" rather than just laugh at it.

+1 These are online surveys & participants were asked to "imagine" interactions with different types of salespeople.

The whole thing seems a joke.

There is reason to believe that many studies in experimental economics are, in fact, entirely imaginary.

Except this research is not what an economist would call experimental economics, because there does not seem to be anything in the study that is incentivized (my judgement from reading the abstract - I could be wrong). The authors of the study have PhDs in marketing, not economics.

Right, academics can just go ask people in business for all sorts of insights.

Anyone want to bet on whether this replicates?

I will if I can take "no."

Nobody has mentioned the reality piece that illustrates this thing, Oprah's problem buying an expensive bag in Switzerland. Rich people should spend more time researching and less time spending.

So... this is the equivalent of Pick Up Artist techniques, for retail? They're negging their customers, and it works?

I hate all salespeople as well as all items sold at retail. Being approached by a salesperson is almost enough to lifetime boycott the brand. I'm not sure how people even could be rejected - if they walk into a store they should know what they want in sufficient detail to specify the product to a manufacturer or engineer even if it had not already been designed.

Where's the actual paper? It's not yet posted by journal (listed for the Oct 2014 issue), not on the authors' sites, and not otherwise easily findable by Google. Makes it very hard to evaluate the quality of the evidence when there is this kind of silly embargoed situation. I can see how it strikes many as irresponsible.

So it's on JSTOR, but not actually linked from the journal's website yet. Odd.

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