By Darima Fotheringham
New research by Darren Dahl, University of British Columbia, and Morgan Ward, Southern Methodist University, “Should the Devil Sell Prada? Retail Rejection Increases Aspiring Consumers’ Desire for the Brand” received a lot of attention in the press lately. The research shows that condescending attitude of sales representatives at higher end stores can actually encourage customers to purchase luxury products. Sounds counter-intuitive? Not necessarily if you look closer at specific scenarios the researchers tested.
The reported effect held true when 1) the research participants (customers) aspired to be associated with the luxury brand; purchase in this case was a way to show they belonged, proving they were a part of the “in-group”; 2) the sales associates were an authentic representation of the brand in the customers’ eyes. Snobby treatment did not work on those customers who did not have strong aspiration for the brand or on those customers who shop at luxury brands regularly. It also did not have the same effect when the sales representatives did not seem to fit the brand. Interestingly, the researchers found that positive image of the brand after rude treatment did not last very long. After two weeks, the customers reported that their desire for the brand significantly diminished, which is not surprising. The novelty effect of owning an aspirational brand wears off, while the unpleasant experience leaves much longer lasting memories.
While rude treatment may help boost immediate sales, it can discourage new customers to return, hurting the brand in the long run. Good customer service is still a gold standard. One important implication from the study: customers can tell and respond positively when front-line employees fit the part and appear to be an authentic representation of the brand. While it may be an impossible task to train the front-line employees to treat aspiring and non-aspiring customers differently, it will always pay off to hire and train front-line employees to appear and behave consistently with your brand. To learn more about the effect of brand authenticity in customer interactions check out our blog post “Bringing Brands to Life“.