At a handful of department stores, fragrance demonstrators who pounce, spray and sell hard are being tamed. They may still flood the floor for debuts and other special events, but they are being gradually replaced by salesclerks who actually ask customers what scents they prefer and — gasp — listen to the reply.
— Read more at Fragrance Spritzers Hold Their Fire at the New York Times. Thanks to Mary for the link!
we can all relate to that, can’t we… ? And even worse, we generally know more about the “new” scents than the hapless SAs themselves (e.g. my latest encounter – a SA insisting that angélique noire is brand new and hence it was impossible that a) I already knew it, b) didn’t like it)
I see so few of these women lately that I wonder if the article is already old news? And at Nordstrom, the SAs have always been great. At Macy’s, not so much.
I haven’t seen spritzers for years here in Australia. Myer in Melbourne used to be notorious, I recall, in the early 90s. People would go out of their way to enter the store by another way. For anyone with adverse reactions, or respiratory problems, it was a real issue because the whole fragrance and cosmetics floor would be enshrouded in perfume. That was also when the 1980s scent bombs were still big, so it all added up to a ‘I hate perfume’ reaction for a lot of people. Shame.
The key is educated sales advisors with different goals and incentives to what they now have. Advisors in department stores ought to have a working knowledge of all the brands in their area, whether perfume, cosmetics or lingerie. It’s absurd that there is no-one to assist in deciding whether a lancolm eye-shadow will work better, given someones skin type, price-point and style, than a dior one. The same goes for perfume.
I agree that fragrance SAs ought to have a more comprehensive understanding of what exactly they have on their counter, so that they could better assist untrained shoppers in finding exactly what they want. Of course, being on commission is at once a boon and a burden; it increases motivation, all right, but not necessarily the kind of helps the customer get what they want.
However, when it comes to cosmetics, I’d rather have SAs that are highly knowledgeable and specialized in the brands(s) they they sell. My Macy’s seems to have moved to a “let’s make fewer SAs work multiple counters” for some of the brands, and all its resulted in is one poor lady trying to work Dior, Chanel, and Shishedo at the same time, and having no idea what any of those brands even sells!
It is interesting how differently everybody shops. I think I don’t want assistance for cosmetics…I try things myself and mostly want to be left alone. The only question I have for SAs regarding fragrance is “what do you have that’s new”? After that, I mostly want them to go away
I have long wished that I could make a teeshirt that said “just browsing” or “I’ll let you know if I need anything.” Although I’ll admit that my worst experinces have been at electronics stores like Best Buy, not fragrance counters.
I work in retail, and you ought to know that at our store, and probably most large retail locations, we are ORDERED to greet every customer, whether they want to be greeted or not: we can actually lose our jobs if we don’t engage with every single person who walks in the door. If there are ten of us working, then every customer is mandated to be greeted ten times. They seem to think that customers want this. This can’t possibly be true.
I don’t think I’m especially rare in wanting to be left alone when I shop. A couple of weeks ago I was in a big-box retail location with my earphones in (as always), listening to an audiobook (therefore focusing), and headed for specific department to look for a specific thing. Two salespeople tried to ask me if I needed any help: I brushed them away and kept going. A third one walked up, STOOD IN FRONT OF ME, and asked if he could help me with anything.
I like to be able to see employees whom I can ask for help if I should need it: I also like to be treated like an adult and not a slow ten-year-old who needs to be greeted with a big fake smile and led around the store by the hand.
If you start making shirts that say “JUST BROWSING” or “LEAVE ME ALONE UNTIL I ASK FOR HELP”, I’ll buy one.
On topic, when I was in New York in 2009, the fragrance department in Macy’s was horrible for this and the one in Bloomingdale’s even worse–the worst retail experience I have ever had, in fact. I’ll never go back to either place. Bergdorf Goodman was exemplary: they were there, and they engaged you if you looked at them, but otherwise they left you alone to sniff.
Anytime a I’m at a store with exceptionally pushy and insistent SA’s, I assume it’s the management and not each individual SA’s personal desire to interact with me. However, I admit that after the 3rd interuption, I do get cranky! I like people, but I’m an introvert–that means my brain requires processing time. If a store doesn’t give me space to think, I literally can’t make a decision. Whenever I have a situation that I feel crowded, I just walk out and they lose a sale. So sorry that you had such bad experiences, and I’ll get on with making those teeshirts!
This is one that can get my goat a bit. I work in a fragrance store, and as pyramus said it’s actually a requirement of my job that I greet every customer that walks in the door. I don’t run up with a fragrance to spritz in their face and demand “What can I get you?!”, but I do generally just give a small wave and “Hi, how are you doing?”. It’s amazing the number of customers that just glare at me, or snap “I’m JUST LOOKING!” – which I find incredibly rude. I was just enquiring as to how your day is going, there’s no need to treat me like a rat you’ve just seen run under your sofa. I understand they’ve probably been conditioned into this reaction by years of pushy sales assistants, or “pouncers”, but as this article points out, they are on the decline. So, I think there is a flip side to this – sales assistants do need to be treated with common courtesy as well.
The other thing I find a bit ridiculous – when someone snaps “I’m just looking,” I usually like to double check and say “Is there anything in particular you were looking for?”. 90% of them will say “Yes, I’m looking for [insert fragrance here], where is it?”. If you wanted to know that from the beginning, why snap at me for addressing you? If they say no, then that’s absolutely fine – I just say “Alrighty, give me a shout if you need anything at all,” and let them be. I actually had one woman just yesterday give me the “just looking”, storm up and down the store for 10 minutes, and then proceed to interrupt my conversation with another customer to demand “WHERE’S YOUR STELLA?!” When I explained that unfortunately we were sold out at the moment, she rolled her eyes and stormed on out before I even got the chance to explain we were expecting another shipment in next week. That could have been a much nicer interaction if she hadn’t merely assumed I was a “pouncer”.
I like to think I have a better-than-average working knowledge of the fragrances we stock – the rarer fragrances I sometimes have difficulty with, but I have a trusty Michael Edwards book handy at all times and am able to direct customers to different stores or websites that can help. The good thing about our store is that we’re not brand specific – a benefit over the counter at department stores, my knowledge is separated into families rather than brands (e.g., if you loved Opium, I’m probably not going to suggest Baby Doll as an alternative).
No real point to this rant in the end, I’m just procrastinating…
Sheree, I have no doubt that customers can be excessively rude and aggressive. I worked in food service for over a decade before I became a teacher, and I KNOW how rude people can be!
And yet, there’s gotta be a way to communicate to the higher-ups that overly-pushy sales doesn’t encorage repeat customers. I’ve had polite-seeming SAs ask me if they can help, and after my equally polite “just browsing,” sometimes they start to follow me around and offer suggestions anyway. At that point, I feel like if my “subtle” suggestion that I’m not interested in help isn’t enough, I have permission to be more straight forward.
This is tough, as I recognize that “I will let you know if I want help” could be polite-sounding to one person’s ears and rude to another’s. I guess I end up feeling like someone’s gonna be offended some of the time, so I might as well just be upfront (but not cranky) about my desire to be left alone. At least then I get the shopping experience I want!
(And yet, wierdly, if they literally grab my hand and spray it, I find myself at a complete loss for words!)
Hi Marjorie –
I think you’re spot on – there’s a thin line between being polite and being pushy. I’m more than happy to leave a customer alone (well and truly – not in a faux “I’m still going to hover over your shoulder” kind of way) if they say they’re “just browsing” in even a semi-polite way. However, I think that more and more customers are sliding to the opposite end of the politeness continuum. If you came into my store, I would happily leave you alone at your request
In response to your question (how do we convince the higher-ups), I believe the easiest way is to TELL THEM. Directly. Go to their website and write a letter. If companies get 1000 emails saying “I really enjoyed coming into your store where the sales assistant was NOT pushy and left me alone – it definitely makes me want to come back”, they’ll communicate that to their staff. At the moment, I think the majority of feedback they get is “Your staff paid NO attention to me so I left in a huff – screw you!”, so that’s what they act on. I’m BIG on communicating with companies myself – if I receive excellent or extremely poor customer service, I’m on their website that afternoon writing a letter with the sales-assistant’s name. As a customer, we need to make sure the company knows how whatever they’re doing is affecting their bottom line, straight from the horse’s mouth. (It’s paid off in some circumstances, too – I’ve had a manager of a supermarket give me a $20 gift card for tipping him off about a horrible employee, who was “no longer working for them” after my relatively politely worded complaint).
In my perfume dept., all the demos except one, are over 50 years old. Hence, they have been in the business a really long time. We’ve seen and heard it all. Between us, I’m sure we must know next to everything. The very young ones can’t be expected to know much—yet. They move on out of the business to careers and lives eleswhere. They don’t have the vested interest that the older demos do. (I’m speaking generally here.)
There is terrible pressure from store managers and account reps to sell, sell, sell, as if we don’t try! The economy is bad and perfume is a luxury.
I treat my customers the way I would like to be treated and that is to be left alone if I request it. I don’t like hovering. However, I have learned the hard way that if I approach a customer who has just entered the area in my low key way, inevitably another demo will sway them over to their line and make a sale. The business is cutthroat and staff can be baracudas.
There are those on staff who work for the dept. store and are on commission. The demos work for the individual perfume companies. Some companies give HUGE incentives for both types of staff to sell to target. It could be money, an expensive designer bag or a trip to Paris!
It’s a very tough business these days and politeness from the general public would be refreshing. A simple “no thanks” to the offer of a blotter is sufficient. I don’t need a person’s medical history. (Nine out of ten people are “allergic”.) I always find it hilarious when people say “not today”. Tomorrow, maybe? Hah! Or “I’m wearing something already”. Does that mean you can’t take a blotter with you? “No, I don’t need any help but how much is this?”
The point about commission is well made. This winter (before I knew what a rabbit hole I’d be falling down!), I was shopping for a scent that would make me feel “special.” I was not yet at all educated about notes, etc., except that I knew I didn’t want to smell like an old lady or like a teenager. I sniffed in both Macy’s and Nordy’s. I ended up deciding on two bottles of fragrance, both were available at each store. In the end, though, just in case they were on commission, I bought one bottle from the SA who’d helped me at Macy’s and one from the SA who’d helped me at Nordstroms. For me, helpful but not pushy wins the prize!
Sheree, I’d really love meeting more SAs like you, actually knowing about Michael Edwards! Unfortunately the last time I answered politely that yes, I was looking out for the new jardin by Hermes I had to spell HERMES out, she then found the display, pointed out to the existing bottles and said proudly: see there! (none of them was the new one of course), so maybe things are improving, but not everywhere…
This article raises another set of questions for me, from the manufacturer’s side of things. . .
If sales of mainstream scents become more about personal taste, will that create pressure to offer more varied options (fewer fruity-florals in favor of providing options for the “woody oriental” customer, for example)?
How much of our current culture of fragrance-aversion stems from people being spritzed with something horrible in a department store?
How much training would *really* be necessary to sell fragrance successfully based on notes for the average Nordy’s or Macy’s SA (after all, it’s more like a sommalier than a stylist)?
As long as everyone is ranting, I would like to add my own thoughts. One of my pet peeves is “helpful” SAs who, after I tell them what I am looking for, proceed to try to sell me something else. My illustration is not perfume-related, but it could have been. This happened to me about 5 years ago when I was shopping for a digital camera. I wanted something that would take good pictures, but was compact, and no more than $500. The SA kept trying to talk me into an SLR, trying to convince me that that was what I really needed, and going on and on about how they are more versatile, allow you to zoom in closer, etc. They also, of course, are much bulkier and more expensive. The ones he was showing me were $1500! He just could not get it through his head that (1) I didn’t want to spend that much money, and (2) I didn’t want something that big and bulky. I got so frustrated that I started to walk out of the store, and had a less argumentative SA not approached me about 20 feet from the door, the store would have lost a sale. Please, please, if you are an SA in any type of store or department–cosmetics, clothing, electronics, whatever–do not try to tell me what I want or need, and do not try to talk me into something that is way outside my budget.
Ugh, that is horrible! You poor thing! It’s one of the first questions I am sure to ask a customer – “If it’s not rude to ask, what sort of price range were you thinking?” and I stick to that as closely as possible. If something is slightly outside that range (e.g., they have said $50, and through their responses I think of a $60 product that is otherwise perfect) I am upfront about that straight away – “This IS a little more than you were looking to spend, but based on what you’ve said… of course, there are other alternatives that aren’t as hard on the wallet…”. I’ve had the same experience – saying “I don’t want to spend more than X” and feeling bullied into a product that is not only not what I want but also twice that much.
The thing that’s tricky about fragrance is that some non-perfumistas struggle to put into words what type of scent they are after. They’ll say “I generally go for fruity fragrances,”, and what they end up going for is not at all what, in my mind, would be classed as “fruity” (e.g., Dali Woman). I think the best thing one can do as a customer is, if you don’t like something that’s been sprayed, give an explanation as to why – “It’s a bit too sweet for my taste,” or “I was thinking something more along the lines of Perfume X, which I have worn before”. Just saying “Nuh, that’s not me,” is really not going to give the SA anywhere to go.
Sigh – I wish more customers AND more SAs in perfume read this blog…