Sauder research shows that rude sale staff help boost in-the-moment sales, but harmful overall

Can rude service actually increase sales of high-end luxury brands?

That’s what research from the Sauder School of Business is suggesting. A new study called 'Should the Devil Sell Prada?' has shown that customers who get the cold shoulder at high-end luxury fashion stores can actually become more willing to purchase their products.

In the study, participants had interactions with sales staff at both casual clothing stores such as American Eagle and at high-end luxury stores such as Gucci or Burberry. When the staff of a luxury brand would react condescendingly towards a customer who looked at the brand’s products, this rejection tended to increase the customer’s desire to buy it.

“If you’re someone who wants to own that luxury thing but you’re not quite there, that’s when negative service can actually make you want it more,” said marketing professor Darren Dahl, who spearheaded the study. “The negative service is basically saying ‘you want to be in this club, but you’re not good enough,’ and that just makes you want it even more.”

The study also found similar results with other mediums such as eco-friendly products: when customers perceived themselves as wanna-bes in owning eco-friendly products, rude service made them want to own the eco-friendly products even more.

“You’ll be willing to do things to get into these groups, and one of them is putting up with people being rude to you” says Dahl. “It’s kind of like the movie Mean Girls.”

A rude attitude was found to be effective if the customer aspired to own the luxury brand but did not own it. It was found to be ineffective if the customer already owned the luxury brand, if the customer did not care about the luxury brand or if the brand was a casual mass-market brand.

However, the desire to purchase the luxury product after rejection does not last very long. When asked how they felt about the luxury products two weeks after the interaction, the customers in the study were generally uninterested in the product.

“Only in the moment is that powerful," said Dahl. “In the moment you react to it. ‘You say I’m not good enough? I’ll show you I’m good enough!’ And two weeks later you’re thinking ‘You know what? Those guys are real assholes, I’m not gonna show up in there anymore.’”

From these results, Dahl suggests that although snobbiness can provoke a customer into making a quick sale, it will not increase overall sales if the staff is constantly condescending towards customers.

“If your sales person wants to make a quick commission, this is a good thing to do, but it doesn’t help your store or brand in the long term,” said Dahl.