TIME psychology

New Retail Mantra: Customers are Scum

Retailers Hope For A Good Christmas Despite The Current Economic Gloom
Oli Scarff—Getty Images A woman walks along Carnaby Street holding several shopping bags on December 6, 2011in London.

The more you're made to feel unworthy of a product, the more you wind up wanting it

“When I went to Louis Vuitton, the sales girls were so [unfriendly]—I could not believe it. I was just dressed normally…and when I walked in [they] stared at me. It was like walking into a freezer, they were so cold toward me…”

That’s a quote from a discussion board on a fashion website. It’s also the introduction to a scholarly article in the June 25 Journal of Consumer Research, which argues that a common reaction to such treatment, is to lust even more passionately for a Louis Vuitton bag. “Our research,” say authors Morgan Ward, of Southern Methodist University, and Darren Dahl, of the University of British Columbia, in a press release, “highlights the fact that we are profoundly attuned to social threats and are driven to buy, wear, and use products from the very people who are disrespectful to us.”

The reason, they explain in “Should the Devil Sell Prada? Retail Rejection Increases Aspiring Consumers’ Desire for the Brand,” makes sense, in a somewhat appalling way: if someone acts like you’re not good enough to own a particular product (or belong to a particular country club or attend a particular college), you might just walk away in defeat. But you might try even harder to prove that yes, damn it, you are good enough. It might not work with the college or the country club, but you’re going to own that bag, even if you have to buy it online—as it turns out many consumers end up doing when they feel dissed in a brick-and-mortars store.

Some luxury retailers have evidently tried to democratize their salespeople, ordering them to be friendlier and more welcoming to the riff-raff who wander in. But given the results of the study, that may actually be bad for business. Treat customers like scum, and they’ll just buy more.




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