Thursday, November 15, 2007

Customer Service Shift in Luxury Stores

Last week, the Wall Street Journal had an interesting article on how high end retailers (the Barneys, Chopards and Louis Vuittons of the world) are slowing shedding their snooty image in favor of giving all customers warmer service and more personalized attention. As someone who can't count the number of times I've walked into a luxury store to browse, only to get ignored by salespeople or given death glares, I was happy to read that retailers are recognizing the importance of treating all their customers well, not just the ladies in Louboutins and Chanel suits.

While luxury retailers may have previously prided themselves on their exclusivity and superiority, a changing marketplace is forcing stores to realize that they're losing sales and alienating many potential customers by this haughty attitude. They're also starting to realize that they can't rely on salespeople to identify potential big spenders by their looks. As our culture has grown increasingly more casual, it's becoming harder to "read" wealth on people. Walk though a luxury department store and you're likely to see as many women dressed in Juicy Couture sweat suits and Uggs as those in head to toe designer duds. Flip through any tabloid and you realize that the shopping outfit of choice for most millionaire celebrities is a casual jeans and flats look. So the old practice of ignoring or treating under-dressed customers with contempt is simply bad business.


Secondly, fashion brands are now being driven by sales of their lower end products: handbags, shoes and accessories. These now-ubiquitous items items are being purchased by people from every social strata. Ten or twenty years ago it may have been unthinkable for drop a month's paycheck on a handbag, it's now fairly normal for regular middle class people to save up to buy the occasional luxury item, even if they can't afford clothes by the same brand. Retailers and brands can't rely on just the wealthy customers to move this merchandise, since it's occasional buyers who are keeping most luxury brands profitable.

Finally, now that a number of stores have truly committed to giving great customer service to everyone (Nordstrom comes to mind), there's increased competition among luxury retailers to keep customers coming back. I've had really intimidating experiences at some stores and have chosen to never return. With my current financial situation (I've never purchased anything designer or luxury), I'm sure this is viewed as no great loss, but retailers can't afford to turn off customers for life. I don't think it's a coincidence that Coach has grown a ton in recent years, both in profits and popularity, when they're known for giving great customer service to anyone who walks through their doors.

Which stores have given you the best customer service experience? Which have been the worst?

19 comments:

Parisjasmal said...

The best service by far was at Jeffrey in NYC. I had heard so many bad things about their sales associates, but they were all lovely and very helpful. Jeffrey is very nice and helpful.
I usually get good service, but I am a very low maintence shopper who usually only wants to be rung up and not bothered.
Most fragrance counters in NYC, Chicago and LA have wonderful service. Shout out Tom Crutchfield at Bergdorf Goodman -he used to work for Bond and he now works at Etro. He is wonderful.

The only times I experience bad service is during the holidays when stores hire anyone with a pulse and give them very little training.

On the other hand, there are stores that try to "over serve" to the point of obnoxious. Have you ever been to Saks NYC beauty floor on a Saturday? OH MY GOD. You cannot even walk through without being mauled by people yelling at you to try this or that or spraying you with some new fragrance. Ugh. Buying eye cream should not be so anxiety inducing!
HA

Elle said...

Nordstrom, without a doubt, has been the best. I live in Washington state and shop at the one in Spokane and sometimes the one in Seattle. It's my favorite place for shoes, not only for excellent service but also because I wear an unusual size (OT: can I whine about how hardly anyone makes a narrow shoe any more, yet extra wide shoes seem to be everywhere?).

OTOH, I wandered into a Bloomingdales in a San Antonio mall last year, and I discovered that I really do have the superhero power of invisibility.

Alison said...

Bloomingdales in NJ are very good, I've noticed they've adopted many of the techniques that Nordstrom became so famous for. And of course, Nordstrom...the store who invented great customer service

Katherine said...

I've shopped at, modeled for, and worked for Nordstrom, and they really are the gold standard of retail customer service. As an employee, I had the ability to markdown prices if the customer saw it cheaper at another store; and was able to do an exchange on a teen girls first pair of designer jeans (that she had bought with her own money) when they shrunk up too high after hemming. Best retail job ever.

Megan said...

Another huge rave for Nordstrom - they consistently provide great service in almost all departments (one exceptions seems to be jewelry - I tend to be ignored at all Nordstrom jewelry counters). Saks has also generall been very good. My worst experiences have been at Nieman Marcus. I could just sense the sales associates sizing me up and determining I couldn't possibly afford anything in the store. Sadly (as a Chicagoan) Marshall Fields also has consistently horrible customer service. I always felt like I was more of an inconvenience than a customer.

Anonymous said...

The Dolce & Gabbana in Shanghai, China (Right on The Bund) had great service the few times my boss and I have went in.

The staff is always helpful and kind. They provide refreshments (orange juice or champagne) while customers browse their nicely maintained store.

The second time we came in, one of the salespeople remembered us and called for the owner of the store, who came out and personally greeted us. She was such a dear and very chic herself!

I think it was our 3rd or fourth visit when she had a special guest from Italy, and introduced us to him also. He was apparently one of D&G's designers or stylists (named Alberto) from Milan. He was so sweet and gave fashion tips to all.

I was pleasantly surprised by D&G. They were very personable, kind and friendly on not only one visit, but the many we had.

Justice said...

I've actually had TERRIBLE customer service every time I've been to Nordstrom. The worst was when a saleswoman very rudely told me that I should try a dress in a size eight. I'm very petite, and when I informed her that, depending on the brand, I wear anything from a zero to a six, she looked me up and down with the most judgmental look and smirked. After struggling with body image issues for nearly a decade, I was crushed, not to mention completely insulted, and I immediately left without purchasing anything.

Pat said...

I've had great experiences at Nordstrom's (especially in the shoe department) and at Barney's cosmetic counters in Chicago. Unlike the previous Chicago-area poster, I always had very good experiences at Marshall Fields - when it was still Fields; now that it's Macy's, I've noticed a marked decline in the quality of the customer service. Her "More of an inconvenience than a customer" comment pretty much sums up my Macy's experience.

I know it wasn't a luxury store, but I would also mention the now-defunct Forth and Towne, where I was treated with the utmost personal attention and care, a standard of service that far exceeded other "mall" stores. They always made me speical and fussed-over, gave me bottled water (and, oh, those spacious dressing rooms!) I shopped there almost more for the experience of their excellent service than for the clothes.

Anonymous said...

Elle, I've lived in TX all my life and just visited bloomingdales.com. there's isn't one in TEXAS. Unless they don't update their website often, there isn't one.

Alexandra said...

Times like this I'm happy I live in Canada- the polite stereotype applies to sales associates and it's great :)
I browse in D&G, and Hermes and the like on a regualr basis and not once did I feel invisible, or get any weird looks...

Elle said...

My mistake, anonymous (1:21 p.m.); I visited a Bloomingdale's when I was traveling for work, attending a conference. It was in San Francisco, not San Antonio.

I did shop in a Dillard's in Texas, and while the service was fine, it was nothing that stood out as exemplary.

nadarine said...

elle:
I'm with you on the narrow shoes trauma. Sometimes DSW Shoes will have narrows, otherwise, vintage seems to be the way to go. I almost never see a sz 9 narrow, so when I do, they're mine!

Carolyn J. said...

At first I read the title of this post without the "F" in "Shift"....

I've tried to give Holt Renfrew some of my money here in Canada - they just won't take it. Guess I'm not good enough.

Tokyo Scene said...

Both Macy's (in OH) and Nordstrom (in Seattle) have given me bad service. I'm a huge stickler on good customer service, so if I'm treated badly (in other words, if I am not acknowledged, esp. if I'm seeking help or given dirty looks (tho maybe they are just grumpy that day!)) I will leave without purchasing even if I had been intending to buy something. I expect people to do their job and if they don't I can take my service (and money!) elsewhere.

In a worse case scenario, I had a saleswoman ignore my friend's existence even though she was the one that was supposed to be getting the help! They talked to me, looked at me, and generally ignored her just because she was dressed in sweats and I was dressed up (I assume). She was the one buying, not me! That was in America...

Currently, I live in Japan. The worst service I had here was at a higher-end mall in Shinjuku. Two saleswoman got in a pushing fight over me--because neither wanted to talk to me (I'm foreign). While my Japanese may be shoddy, I do know enough that the gist of their fight was over me (quote: you go talk to her! no, you!). I found that rather rude even though I knew they were just nervous to be around me. All breathed a sigh of relief when I asked them a question in Japanese.

Typically, I find the service in Japan to be A LOT better than that in America. High-end designer boutiques as well. I've always been treated well whenever I walk in Chanel or D&G. They've never hesitated to show me bags in different colors, even if I don't purchase them. Added perks include getting drinks while I browse the store or having sale associate attempt to find my style (they are normally very good at watching you browse and then picking out something you like).

Whew! I'm wordy. I just think customer service can make or break a store experience for me as a lot of time I shop to enjoy time alone or have a certain list of things I want.

Anonymous said...

I have had, by far, the worst experience at Barneys & Bergdorf Goodman. The best service at Saks. All in NY. I have had hit & miss service at the Louis Vuitton store on Madison Ave. I strongly associate it to what I was wearing. The most reason trip to Saks I was wearing a fur bolero and a fendi clutch. While my most recent (and worst excursion) to the other mentioned stores I was wearing jeans and a leather coat and my hair was a mess. I strongly agree that people treat you differently based on appearance. I also think it has something to do with where in NY you are. On the upper East side, I have even experience rude service @ Club Monaco even if they are ringing up $100s of dollars in items for me, while as Club Monaco in midtown has pretty good customer service even if you are in your gym clothes. F*@#$%^&* sales people sometimes! The reality is, we are the ones shopping in the stores - they work there - and I would bet that we are making more money then them yet they still treat us differently!

Anonymous said...

The last time I was at Holt Renfrew in Vancouver, Canada, the Dior and Chanel cosmetic counters were the worst.

Anonymous said...

tokyo scene: I agree with you on the asian customer service thing! In Korea, sales people are helpful and attentive almost to a fault! but at least they're always very friendly :P

as for vancouver's holt renfrew.. it's sort of a hit or miss.. sometimes I get extremely nice sales associates, and sometimes I don't. it doesn't really matter what I'm wearing either.. I think its because I'm a university student (ageism?)

Zenobiah said...

Best experience: Estee Lauder counter at Peter Jones in London. My friend bought some foundation and rouge there and the saleswoman not only made up samples of two other nuances of foundation for my friend AND gave us both big samples of perfume, concealer and mascara. Amazing!

kim said...

Alexandra, I have to disagree with you. I'm not sure where you are, but in Ottawa, service sucks city-wide. As someone who used to work in high-end skincare retail and prided herself on giving stellar service, it pains me when I go into Holt Renfrew, or even Tommy-frigging-Hillfiger and get treated like dirt, or worse. I'm a casual shopper, and usually go around in my jeans and flats, but salespeople here are really bad for gauging you based on how you dress. If I go to a store straight from the office (and am therefore dressed up), the difference is noticeable. It's really disturbing, because there's no excuse to behave like that if you're a retail worker.

That said, some of my best shopping experiences were in the stores along Ste-Catherine in Montreal! Yes, I have to go to a different city to get service.