Thursday, October 25, 2007

From the diary of a cranky shopper

Let's talk about customer service.

Everyone I know has a story or two and I've heard some amusing theories about special training in customer-terrorizing. Considering my experience lately, I'm starting to think it might be true.

I know a thing or two about perfume. If I'm telling you that I'm not looking for big white florals today, please (please!) don't try to grab my wrist and spray it with Estee Lauder Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia. And don't argue with me about the effect of gardenia, ok? I can smell it from the bottle just fine and there's no way in hell that stuff is getting on my skin. Do.Not.Want.
Strike number 1 for Saks 5th Avenue (my local one, not the flagship store in NYC).

Another Saks moment, from today: I was trying on handbags, in a futile attempt to find the perfect black purse. Despite my request to browse by myself, the bag lady insisted on striking up a conversation. I can deal with that, as long as I'm not being crowded (and I was). My personal space is kind of important, you know? If I can smell your coffee breathe then you're too close.  Also: Do not contradict a customer.  If I tell you a purse is too small for my needs, then I'm right. Seriously: If I'm going to have to choose between carrying my wallet and my cell phone, then it is wrong for me. Why argue?

But the one that takes the cake is what happened to me a couple of weeks ago at the fashion floor of Barneys in Manhattan. Picture this: Here I am, wearing a little black dress and high heels, carrying an unmistakable red Valentino purse and a small Barneys shopping bag from the beauty department (I indulged in some Uncle Serge). As I was stepping away from the escalator, two sales assistants were eyeing me. Apparently, not with approval, because as I was approaching the racks, one of them stopped me and said: "It took you way too long to get here!". I was about to say "excuse me?" when she and her friend started snickering :"Oh, I thought you were our seamstress".

Granted, I don't look very Upper East Side, and my very long hair has something slightly bohemian about it, but I'd think that my appearance still said "potential customer". And the thing is, the smirking made it obvious that it was meant as an insult. I started half-heartedly browsing the Lanvin display, kicking myself for not responding with a snappy comeback. I found a sweater I liked, but decided I'm not giving them my business. Why should I?


  1. k

    First off, I have worked in retail. In Beverly Hills. The first thing you learn here (despite that scene in "Pretty Woman") is that that girl who dresses like a hooker, might A) be a hooker who wants to spend a lot of money to sit at the bar at the Peninsula to pick up men, B) be a Hollywood wife who wants to look like A or C) just look like every one else from LA who are concerned with being as taut as possible.

    I am sure that twenty years of living in 90210 have obliterated my memory of those peculiar distinctions that sales people in New York (who, I am sure live in the East 80's) but I can personally vouch for the wonderful service ot Bergdorfs, both at the Lutens counter and at Erno Laszlo. I fyou are getting attitude at Barneys in New York, take item numbers and order from those nice people at Barneys in Beverly Hills, and let both parties know why.

  2. Not to write that I think you might look iike a hooker (I should proof-read before posting)

    In my reptillian leftover retail brain I see you as Definite Customer: open to books, art, perfume, clothes and furniture: even makeup and cars!

    I see you in an XLR-V, Bandit, Louboutin pumps and Billy Haines furniture. Am I wrong?

    Confession: except for the pumps, that's my ideal too.

  3. Write a letter of complaint. Seriously. I learned that from my boss, and she's definitely right: complaining works. Most of the time you get an excuse and some little thingie, such as a free coffee or something to make up for whatever it is you're complaining about. And even if you don't - you got it out of your system.

  4. WHAT pains in the a** !
    The only way to make it worse, IMHO, would be to add that "everyone is wearing it this season"...
    In the words of the Prophet:
    FEH !!!
    Instant turn-off.
    Dinazad a raison, ma fille.
    A little well-placed, judicious griping might be just the ticket.

    I truly think these folk don't realize how obnoxious they are- or don't care, perhaps.
    Not acceptable, either way.

  5. I am usually compassionate due to the long hours those SAs have to stay on their feet and meet disagreeable customers, but there was no reason for you to be made to feel embarassed.
    So sorry this happened to you...

    Better luck next time and yes, the customer is always right!

    BTW, if you still want an Amethyst sample, please mail me with an addy so I can send it.
    (perfumeshrine at yahoo dot com)

  6. Tom- How do I love thee, let me count the ways...

    You're spot on, except that my pumps are actually Manolo. There's something a bit too obvious about Louboutin. I prefer a little mystery :).

    I agree that Bergdorf is much more pleasant. Actually, the guys at Barneys perfume department were delightful and happy to talk Serge and Malle. It was just the blonde prunes upstairs who turned me off that place forever.

  7. Dinazad - Writing about it here got it nicely out of my system (very much needed. It's been upsetting me for the last couple of weeks), but I do agree that a formal complaint might be a good idea.

    Chaya- You crack me up: "everyone is wearing it" is exactly the way to make me not buy or wear something. I'm so not "everyone".

    Helg- I know what you mean: I worked retail before and during my first year in college and I know how hard it is to always be polite and friendly, while some customers, right or wrong, can act beastly.
    I sent you an email :)

  8. I bet the Barneys SAs saw in you someone cool, with an artistic bent, someone who has a great eye. So they immediately sorted you from the normal, boring shoppers and decided you were a bohemian working girl, which is, in my mind, the best of all. (At least that's my positive spin!)

    Anyway, it sounds like you looked great!

  9. I would definitely complain. That snarky duo might be costing the store a lot of business. I think that management would like to know about it.

  10. Uhmm.. methinks they were a tad envious. I mean there you are looking great no doubt and more important - exuding joy and contentment...
    Let's not forget, some women are like that - bitchy and unafraid to show it. I say complain - unprofessional behaviour should be addressed or it will escalate.

  11. Have you checked out They have bags in more classical iterations, and you can search by color. I apologize if you've already looked there.

    I have a Greek friend who told me that one of the weirdest things about American fashion is how rich people dress like slobs. Perhaps your Barney's harridans were immigrants? Not that it's much of an excuse. Any place that demands that much money shouldn't have SAs who feel they're that entitled.

    I prefer Manolos to Louboutins too. This is the first time I've seen someone who agrees with me. Louboutins have become common, and the workmanship has plummeted accordingly, which infuriates me given how the prices have become ever more expensive.

  12. Angela- Thanks for the (much needed) positive spin! She labeled me "different" that's for sure, which is kinda silly, considering we're talking NYC. Who isn't different here?

    Anon- I know you're right. I'm pretty sure my unbought Lanvin sweater wasn't the only business they've ever lost because of SA attitude.

    allthingspink- Thanks for the support. You're right about the joy: I was so happy having just purchased two beautiful Lutens perfumes I was practically floating up that escalator. And these two evil twins didn't really look like they were having a wonderful day.

    Dain- Thanks for reminding me about forzieri. They usually have things that are different than what you see everywhere, and I ahven't looked there in quite a while.
    We definitely agree about Louboutin. Too many of his designs look cheap and even the materials don't give the right impression. At least, not what's right for me.

  13. I've turned into a real old fart - if I get good customer service, I mail the floor manager; if I get poor, I do the same. Those snarky madams probably hate their jobs but need to learn that taking it out on their customers is always wrong. Contact the store, express your concerns assertively and politely, shop elsewhere...


  14. Lee- I think I'm going to adopt your old farty ways. Ranting online isn't enough to change things, but taking both the good and the bad to the management might actually do the trick.
    I just remembered the lovely service I enjoyed last year when shopping for Missoni in Selfridges. The total opposite of the Barneys mummified ladies. I should have done something to thank them.
    Kisses to you, too.

  15. Gaia, chiming in extremely late here to say that, as a former customer service troll, I always make a point (time allowing) of complimenting SAs to the management -- or complaining, as appropriate. A calm, articulate complaint about service has netted me various small goodies.

    I think the general opinion is that service at that Barneys is crap, and I do find their attitude funny. Not funny enough to put up with, though. For the record, you can basically shop in Bergdorf in your nightie, or your painter's outfit, and get excellent CS. They've figured out you can't judge a checkbook by the cover.

    PS I like your new look! -- March


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