At least at luxury stores, the ruder the sales staff, the better for sales, according to new research from the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business. The study found snobby associates reinforce the reputation of high-end, posh labels as privileged for the social elite.
"It appears that snobbiness might actually be a qualification worth considering for luxury brands like Louis Vuitton or Gucci," said Sauder Marketing Professor and Co-Author Darren Dahl in a press release. "Our research indicates they can end up having a similar effect to an 'in-group' in high school that others aspire to join."
The researchers labeled the phenomenon the "Pretty Woman effect" after a scene in the movie in which Julia Roberts' character is insulted at a posh boutique. The research was inspired by a similar situation in which a rude employee brushed off Mr. Dahl and he wound up buying two bottles of cologne instead of one.
For the study, participants imagined or had interactions with sales representatives — rude or not. They then rated their feelings about associated brands and their desire to own them. After being treated poorly, participants who expressed an aspiration to be associated with high-end brands reported an increased desire to own the luxury products.
The study also found that staff rudeness did not improve impressions of mass-market brands.
"This only worked for brands and stores that customers would aspire to, truly luxury brands like Burberry or Gucci," Mr. Dahl told CTV Vancouver. "For lower-end, mainstream retailers — Gap and American Eagle, these types of stores — this type of effect doesn't happen."
The study had some caveats. The effect only held true if the salesperson appeared to be an authentic representative of the brand. If not, the consumer was turned off.
"Our study shows you've got to be the right kind of snob in the right kind of store for the effect to work," said Ms. Dahl in the statement.
Rude treatment also fades over time. Customers who expressed increased desire to purchase the products reported significantly diminished desire two weeks later.
The study, "Should the Devil Sell Prada? Retail Rejection Increases Aspiring Consumers' Desire for the Brand," will appear in the October 2014 edition of the Journal of Consumer Research.
Is it more or less common to find rude sales associates in luxury stores than in mainstream locations?