Now more than ever, there’s a magnifying glass over luxury purveyors and the way they treat employees, and even more so, their customers. First it was Barney’s, who came under fire after two young African Americans accused the high-end department store of racial profiling, then an HBO actor held Macy’s responsible for a similar case of social injustice.
In addition to racial prejudice, there’s another kind of bias that’s also been commonplace in the retail arena — and that’s judging someone based on their appearance (i.e. clothing, age, etc.). Perhaps you’ve been in this situation yourself, where you’re blithely perusing the displays at Louis Vuitton or Prada, not exactly looking you’re most fancy, and get the eery feeling that the sales associates who greeted you with fake smiles are sizing you up as a window shopper. For those that have experienced this, or just big spenders cloaked in a sweatpants guise, it appears the worst of those judgement days may be over thanks to an uptick in stealth wealth.
According to the Financial Times, new academic research suggests that luxury stores have learned the age-old adage of ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’. Harvard Business School surveyed shop assistants from luxury boutiques in Milan to assess how they would react to a customer dressed in gym clothes or flip-flops and a Swatch. Interestingly enough, the study found that the sales people were more likely to view the person as a potential celebrity compared to a similar woman wearing an elegant dress or a Rolex.
“Wealthy people sometimes dress very badly to demonstrate superiority,” said one of the assistants. “If you dare enter these boutiques so underdressed, you are definitely going to buy something.”
The authors of the study argue that the key finding of this study is that luxury markets are looking to understand how non-conformist consumers signal that they’re making a deliberate choice not to get dressed up versus a lack of disposable income.
Considering that we always got a bad feeling in the pit of our stomachs during that infamous shopping scene in Pretty Woman, in which Vivian (a.k.a. Julia Roberts) is treated hideously by the salespeople at a Beverly Hills boutique based on her racy get-up, we’re happy to learn that employees are seemingly making less snap judgements.