The other day, I realized that I was out of a particular product, and only know one place in my beloved city to buy it. This establishment is right near our most fashionable mall. It’s the same mall to which I used to make an August pilgrimage, to buy my school clothes. It was customary then to dress up a little when going to town, and a few places still make me feel like I ought to do that. They connect me to the past. I take extra care. It’s a little salute to an old way of being.
I stepped into the perfume department of a very upscale department store. You know the one. With the infamous catalog and the secret chocolate chip cookie recipe. It’s the Valhalla of commerce. Let’s just call it the Temple of Conspicuous Consumption, or TCC, for now.
The second my not-all-that-well-shod foot hit that storied marble floor, I was accosted. Detained. Shanghai’ed by an SA like never before. Here she was, and was and was and was and was, trying to sell me (oh God no) skin care products!
The SA launched into her spiel. Was I truly happy with my skin care routine? Have I decided what my neck cream should be? How about my eye cream? What about my upper lip cream?
I, uh, don’t really think about my neck that much, truth be told, except when it has a kink in it...and what’s wrong with my neck anyway that I need a special cream for it, hunh? The SA, a well-made up woman of about fifty, I’d guess, who knows, began to follow me, pestering me like a puppy. Do I use a foundation primer? she asked. (Uh, no, because I don’t even use foundation, well maybe New Year’s Eve.) Before I knew it she was dropping teeny little samples my handbag and giving me her card. I took it, just to get away from her, and headed over to the Guerlain counter.
Two seconds later, there she was again. Did I like Guerlain? Had I tried X? How about Y? I asked if she sold perfume too. She told me -- horror of horrors -- that she was empowered to represent every product in the perfume department and, obviously, other departments too.
I looked around. No one was alone here. There were no solo customers. Every one of them was being followed by one of these roving all-access SA’s.
I fled the store as fast as my not-so-well-shod feet would go.
Later, as always, I thought about it.
What in the world makes a retailer think that this is a smart sales strategy? My first reaction was that perhaps they had marked me as a potential shoplifter. Over the past days I’ve begun to wonder, though: did I look like I needed that much cosmetic help? Or was it my perfect (not) clothing that did it? Was it the jacket I was wearing? Was it my shoes, hair, face, what? TCC has always made me feel like a peasant, but, in my city, it’s the store where the niche perfumes are -- some of them.
So, you might ask: Why didn’t you just tell her to get lost?
Here’s why. Because I’ve worked in floor sales too. Because I bet she’s on straight commission or close to it. Because she may hate doing this as much as I hate being subjected to it. Because, for all I know, she might be supporting two kids in college. Because life is hard. And because I can’t be like that. I just can’t.
My only solution is the passive one. I won’t darken that door again.
What I wouldn’t give for a free-standing perfume store, where I could browse and sniff and test. Like the one I used to go to in L.A., on my way home from classes. I discovered so many beautiful fragrances there, long before the IFRA or LVMH or any of those other initials came along. I’d pay retail for that privilege. I’d even become a regular.
We all read about how the fragrance industry is hurting, but here’s my take on it: this is desperate, and it reeks of desperation. It isn’t going to work, fellas. Not now not ever. It shows the same kind of disregard for the customer that bottling reformulated crap and selling it under a classic name does. It diminishes the product, the customer, the store and, most of all, the industry.
And maybe I’m just a retail innocent, but I didn’t expect it here, or, for that matter, anywhere.
Photo from IMDB.