Its said that if you experience good service, you're likely to tell a friend; and that if you experience poor customer service, you're likely to tell ten of 'em. Good call.
I constantly read posts on online forums that tell of unsatisfactory retail experiences whilst shopping for fine fragrance. Whilst I recognize that 8 times out of 10 the S.A. is likely to be at fault, I also believe that there is often a degree of expectation and haughtiness on behalf of the customer that may ultimately cause their own undoing. How do I know...? you might ask. Well, because I've been there and done that. After almost a decade of fragrance consultancy, I would like to lift the lid and put to rest some common misconceptions with regard to your average sales rep. Here's how it works...
Department stores and large retail chains employ representatives from diverse fragrance houses. For instance, L'Oreal (responsible for Armani, Ralph Lauren, Cacharel etc) will put a S.A in store to promote lines from the L'Oreal portfolio. Similarly, B.P.I or Beauty Prestige International will place a S.A who will promote "their" scents (Gaultier, Miyake, Rodriguez). With the number of fragrance houses on the market, there is no wonder there are many reps on the floor at any given time. ALL BUT FEW of these reps are employed in this manner. They are paid a wage to sell you a brand which their house represents. This is chiefly because their knowledge is greater for these scents, than those that other houses release.
Contrary to popular belief, no-one works on commission anymore - however sales incentives are sometimes offered. (Eg: if there is a launch or refocus on, for example, Versace fragrances, the S.A's from the company representing Versace will need to sell a particular quota in order to win a prize or cash reward). These incentives are not that regular, however, again, with the number of houses represented (and thus S.A's on the floor promoting their lines), it can easily be understood how many customers can feel overwhelmed and pressured to buy.
The key to avoid awkward stand-offs with assistants is to observe the following:
1. 90% of the time, they will offer you scents from their houses. This is because their knowledge of these scents is greater than for others. If you feel you are being unduly swayed to purchase something you're not completely sold on, simply ask the question "aside from the fragrances in your company's portfolio, what else can you show me?"
2. Always be polite and don't expect the worst from your S.A! Many customers go into stores with the outlook that they are going to be "poached and preached to", and build a defensive wall around themselves. This wall is impossible for even a good S.A. to penetrate.
3. Keep in mind there are good S.A's who do wish to help, despite their loyalties to their companies. Seek them out, and hold on to them for dear life!
4. External promotional companies hire staff to promote a wide range of products from alcoholic beverages to event tickets to perfumes. Often, fragrance houses will hire promo staff from these agencies during a launch or promotion to increase the brand's in-store presence... keep in mind these people have almost no knowledge of the scent, nor the industry. This is not through ignorance - rather lack of training and experience. Don't get mad when they fumble or give you questionable information, and try and hold your tongue if you know better. Simply thank them and move on to a staff member who seems to be a permanent fixture in the store, or one who appears to know what they are talking about. Chances are, that when the promo person's shift is over later that day; they are unlikely to ever return to that store for that same event.
Bottom line: keep a level head.
There is always a certain degree of snobbery in fragrance circles which really is almost a part of the fragrance culture. Don't be an upstart, just for shits and giggles. It will get you nowhere.