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Snobby staff may boost luxury retail sales

April 29, 2014
Courtesy of University of British Columbia
and World Science staff

When it comes to lux­u­ry brands, the ruder the sales staff the bet­ter the sales, new re­search sug­gests. The forth­com­ing study in the Jour­nal of Con­sum­er Re­search finds that con­sumers who get the brush-off at a high-end re­tail­er can be­come more will­ing to pur­chase and wear pricey togs.

“S­nob­bi­ness might ac­tu­ally be a qualifica­t­ion worth con­sid­er­ing for lux­u­ry brands like Lou­is Vuit­ton or Guc­ci,” said re­searcher Dar­ren Dahl of the Uni­vers­ity of Brit­ish Columbi­a’s Sauder School of Busi­ness. “Our re­search in­di­cates they can end up hav­ing a si­m­i­lar ef­fect to an ‘in-group’ in high school that oth­ers as­pire to join.”

But “our study shows you’ve got to be the right kind of snob in the right kind of store for the ef­fect to work.”

For the stu­dy, par­ti­ci­pants im­ag­ined or had in­ter­ac­tions with sales rep­re­sen­ta­tive – rude or not. They then rat­ed their feel­ings about as­so­ci­at­ed brands and their de­sire to own them. Par­ti­ci­pants who ex­pressed an as­pira­t­ion to be as­so­ci­at­ed with high-end brands al­so re­ported an in­creased de­sire to own the lux­u­ry prod­ucts af­ter be­ing treated poor­ly.

The ef­fect only held true if the sales­per­son seemed to be an “au­then­tic” rep­re­sent­a­tive of the brand, the re­search­ers found. If they did­n’t fit the part, the con­sum­er was turned off. And sales staff rude­ness was­n’t found to im­prove im­pres­sions of mass-market brands.

The re­search­ers al­so found that im­proved im­pres­sions gained by rude treat­ment fad­ed over time. Cus­tomers who ex­pressed in­creased de­sire to pur­chase the prod­ucts re­ported sig­nif­i­cantly lower de­sire two weeks lat­er. Dahl sug­gests that, if con­sumers are be­ing treated rude­ly, it’s best to leave the situa­t­ion and re­turn lat­er, or avoid the in­ter­ac­tions by shop­ping on­line.


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When it comes to luxury brands, the ruder the sales staff the better the sales, according to new research. The forthcoming study in the Journal of Consumer Research finds that consumers who get the brush-off at a high-end retailer can become more willing to purchase and wear pricey togs. “Snobbiness might actually be a qualification worth considering for luxury brands like Louis Vuitton or Gucci,” said researcher Darren Dahl of the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business. “Our research indicates they can end up having a similar effect to an ‘in-group’ in high school that others aspire to join.” But “our study shows you’ve got to be the right kind of snob in the right kind of store for the effect to work.” For the study, participants imagined or had interactions with sales representatives – rude or not. They then rated their feelings about associated brands and their desire to own them. Participants who expressed an aspiration to be associated with high-end brands also reported an increased desire to own the luxury products after being treated poorly. The effect only held true if the salesperson appeared to be an authentic representative of the brand, the researchers found. If they didn’t fit the part, the consumer was turned off. And sales staff rudeness wasn’t found to improve impressions of mass-market brands. The researchers also found that improved impressions gained by rude treatment faded over time. Customers who expressed increased desire to purchase the products reported significantly diminished desire two weeks later. Dahl suggests that, if consumers are being treated rudely, it’s best to leave the situation and return later, or avoid the interactions by shopping online.