Why love luxury retailers that hate you?

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Last Updated: Jul 2, 2014

It is surprising to note that customers who feel rejected by luxury retailer actually end up wanting them more. This is according to a new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

This study entitled “Should the Devil Sell Prada? Retail Rejection Increases Aspiring Consumer’s Desire for Brands” was trying to find out how the interactions with rude sales people affect the way the customers desire their brand.

This is a very interesting discovery. How can rudeness actually attract people? “We found that when you’re rejected in a mass-market brand environment, you like the brand less, immediately but with luxury brands, they are more inspirational for people. People are more likely to feel that they have to [be accepted] by them,” said Morgan K. Ward, the assistant professor of marketing at Southern Methodist University.

The study found that luxury brands manage to get away with being rude to some customers unlike their mass-market counterparts.

In another experiment involving 360 women, the researcher asked them to take note of their encounter with either a polite or rude salesperson at both a luxury retailer and a mass market. Later, they were given a survey to fill out on their perceptions concerning the brands.

It is surprising that the rude encounters at the mass market lowered the participants’ opinion of them, while at luxury brands; the participants said they valued the brands more. And they were also more eager to pay more for their goods and wear the brand’s clothing in public.

While the rude encounters at the mass market retailers lowered the participant’s opinion of them, researchers found that the women who read about a rude encounter at a luxury brand were more likely to say they valued those brands more.

In another experiment, Ward hired actors to pose as representatives for high-end labels. Each actor was given a script with either polite dialogue or rude dialogue to guide their interactions with consumers. After the interactions, the results were the same.

“Initially, we just thought everyone would feel this way because there’s a lot of past research on how people respond to rejection by trying to [win favor with the rejecting party],” Ward said. “But we were surprised to see the people who were most positive about the rude [salespeople] were those who didn’t feel like they quite belonged to the brand.”

The results of Ward’s research come as a surprise to luxury retailers who have been trying to soften their edges to attract or appeal to a wider customer base. For example, Lord & Taylor trained their salespeople to be friendlier so as to woo more customers. And Manhattan luxury department store even fired their usual doormen to hire friendlier doormen in order to appeal to Christmas shoppers.

Should it be taken that salespeople at luxury retail stores should be rude? Further research by Ward shows that this may only be effective in the short run. It may make that brand appealing to consumers for a moment, but it can be damaging in the long run.

But she stops short of promoting the idea that making customers feel intimidated as a good sales plan. It may make the brand more appealing to customers for a moment, but further research shows it can be damaging in the long term.

“That’s why this is really not a long-term strategy if you value customer loyalty and retention,” she concluded.

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