Do Snobbish Sales Associates Lead You to Buy More?

A new study suggests that this might be the case.
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Alyssa Vingan Klein
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A new study suggests that this might be the case.
Photo: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

Photo: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

Shopping for luxury goods may be an even less logical endeavor than we originally thought, recent research suggests. Last month, a study found that going to luxury stores while wearing sweats will often lead staff to pay more attention to you while you browse, and generally give you better service than if you were wearing, say, a fur coat. This is because casually dressed customers were viewed as more likely to buy something—shoppers dressed to the nines could be overcompensating for their lack of cash.

Now, luxury shopping-related research from the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business is challenging what we thought we knew about the culture of high-end retail. According to a forthcoming study in the October edition of the Journal of Consumer Research, people who are snubbed by a sales associate might be more likely to make a purchase.

The study, aptly entitled Should the Devil Sell Prada? Retail Rejection Increases Aspiring Consumers’ Desire for the Brand, suggests that if a salesperson in an upscale store is highly representative of the label that a shopper wants to align his or herself with, treating said customer rudely might actually increase his or her desire to own a piece from the brand. Sauder professor Darren Dahl likens snobby sales associates to the cool kids in high school that everyone wanted to be "in" with, despite how mean they could be. 

Sales associates shouldn't get any ideas from this study in hopes to increase their commissions, however: The study found that this rudeness does not improve customers' impressions of mass-market brands, and the same goes for salespeople who did not seem to organically and genuinely fit the image of the brand. In addition, the desire that's spurred by the snobby treatment wanes significantly over time, so if you find yourself in the same situation after multiple store visits, you're more likely to simply leave the store.

So, if you've ever felt bullied into buying a too-expensive item by a too-cool staff member at a luxury store, take solace in the fact that you're not alone. It's science.