A snobby sales staff could be a serious asset to a luxury retailer, according to a new study from the University of British Columbia and Southern Methodist University. Finally, high-end fashion companies have an economic incentive to be insulting!
In a series of four different experiments, research participants (mostly women) interacted with or imagined interactions with sales representatives who were presented as either rude or neutral, then rated how they felt about the brands. Rudeness wasn't a turn-on for mass-market brands like Gap or H&M. But for luxury goods, a more-fashionable-than-thou attitude increased participants' desire to own the products—and made them willing to pay more for them.
"It appears that snobbiness might actually be a qualification worth considering for luxury brands like Louis Vuitton or Gucci," according to Darren Dahl, one of the study's authors and a professor of marketing at UBC's Sauder School of Business. "Our research indicates they can end up having a similar effect to an ‘in-group’ in high school that others aspire to join." In other words, condescending salesmen are the mean girls of retail—they're cruel, but you can't stop wanting to be one of them. Even after experiencing rejection, people want to prove they can fit in.
However, the effect was quick to fade: Two weeks later, people who had been swayed by impolite sales representatives reported diminished desire for the product. And since reactions to imaginary salesmen aren't exactly the pinnacle of hard data, let's hope Gucci doesn't run out and hire the most spiteful people they can find to push their products.