How snooty staff at luxury stores actually boost sales

By: CBS
By: CBS

CBS - Groucho Marx, who famously said he never wanted to belong to a club that would accept him, may have missed his calling in luxury goods.

It turns out that snobby staff at luxury stores can actually get consumers to pay more by making them feel excluded and even more desperate to join the club, according to a forthcoming study to be published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Such condescending behavior won't open up a consumer's wallet when it comes to staff at affordable brands, however. That's because shoppers feel more comfortable and less threatened by a snobby H&M shop clerk, believing they are already accepted by the brand. But a pricey label employee's snub might send a consumer into a tailspin of self-doubt and longing to belong to what they perceive an exclusive club. If it sounds a lot like trying to join the top clique of mean girls, you're not far off.

"If you think back to high school, that's what this study is capturing," Darren Dahl, a marketing professor at the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia, told CBS MoneyWatch. "In the moment, people who aspire will pay more."

People who already own a Gucci bag won't be impressed by the snobbish attitude of store clerks, though, given that they already possess the brand and are likely to think the staff are acting like jerks. "It's only people who want to be part of the club, who are aspiring to the brand and who want to buy your product," Dahl noted.

But long-term, the strategy will fail, Dahl cautions.

Snubbed customers "want to buy more in the moment, but a couple weeks later they were very negative" about the experience, Dahl said. The basic take-away is that it's still worthwhile for any brand, including luxury retailers, to provide good service, he added.

High-end brands are no longer just luxury names like Hermes and Prada, the study noted. Consumers are also identifying "green" brands like Toyota's Prius and health-related products like Lululemon as aspirational products, the study noted.

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