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Being snobbish found hurting business for luxury good sellers

Being snobbish found hurting business for luxury good sellers

Shopper Tracy Sedino was in a Louis Vuitton store on Avenue Montaigne in Paris when a saleswoman snatched away a bangle bracelet that a friend was scrutinizing. She demanded to inspect the bag of another friend, suspecting him of shoplifting.
"We were very, very shocked," said Sedino, 26, part owner of a UK fashion accessories maker. After determining that nothing was stolen, the saleswoman "just sort of sneered."
Sounds like a scene from the 1990 movie "Pretty Woman," in which Julia Roberts's prostitute character is snubbed at a boutique on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. After making purchases elsewhere, she taunts the offending saleswoman, saying that mistreating a shopper is a "big mistake."
Some luxury-goods makers agree.
Companies such as Paris-based LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA - the world's biggest luxury-goods maker - are beefing up staff and training to prevent a loss of customers. Walpole, a luxury-industry trade group in London, says reversing the deterioration of service is its "manifesto" for this year.
Walpole Deputy Chairman Guy Salter will present strategies for enhancing service at the American Express Publishing Luxury Summit in Florida, April 29-May 1. The conference is attended by executives from companies that make or sell luxury products.
More than half of shoppers are unhappy with their experience at luxury-goods sellers, according to the Luxury Institute, a New York research group that surveys wealthy consumers. Chief Executive Officer Milton Pedraza says he thinks the companies should please 80 percent of customers.
Bergdorf's decline
Nordstrom Inc., the Seattle-based department-store chain, scored first in the institute's annual survey of U.S. luxury retailers' qualities such as staff enthusiasm and problem resolution. Brooks Brothers Inc., Federated Department Stores Inc.'s Bloomingdale's and LVMH's eluxury.com ranked lowest among the eight. Neiman Marcus Group Inc.'s Bergdorf Goodman dropped to fourth from second.
In a survey of 17 luxury fashion brands on similar qualities, Hermes International SCA, Giorgio Armani SpA and Ferragamo SpA topped the list. Fendi SpA and Hugo Boss AG fared the worst, and Louis Vuitton Malletier slid to seventh from second.
Shopper Peter Levine says he knows about bad customer service. The Louis Vuitton store in New York's SoHo neighborhood was unable to repair his US$1,500 brown-leather shoulder bag and gave him replacements that also were faulty, he says. After 18 months, the store said the item's hardware was discontinued.
"They said, 'We at Louis Vuitton cannot compromise the integrity of one of our designs,'" said Levine, 47. He made clear his dissatisfaction that he was stuck with a defective bag.
Vuitton spokeswoman Iana dos Reis Nunes declined to comment.
No more worship
"Consumers are not willing to worship at the bottom of the mountain anymore," Salter said. As more people buy more luxury products, they demand better treatment, he says.
The industry's rapid expansion in recent years has taken a toll, Salter says. Luxury companies that used to be family-owned, local enterprises have grown too big to offer personalized attention.
Global sales of luxury goods rose 10 percent to a record US$150 billion in 2006, according to Telsey Advisory Group, a New York research firm.
Companies should focus on improving the shopping experience instead of spending on celebrity ad campaigns and eye-popping stores, Salter says.
Cindy Parker, a managing director at a London insurance company, says she returned a US$1,094 Chanel bag to the Rue Cambon store in Paris. Large hoops attaching the leather-and-chain strap to the quilted purse had broken after six months of use.
Parker was promised a call when the bag was fixed. More than a month later, she doesn't have her bag back.
"The name of the bag is Timeless," she said.
Chanel fell to ninth place from sixth in the Luxury Institute survey. Chanel spokeswoman Gretchen Fenton didn't respond to requests for comment.
When LVMH got into the watch and jewelry business in 2001, customers had to wait a month or two for watch repairs, which was "insulting," says the unit's president, Philippe Pascal.
LVMH doubled its crew of watchmakers in the U.S. to 40. Now, more than 90 percent of repairs are made within two weeks, he says.
Geneva-based Cie. Financiere Richemont AG, whose brands include Cartier jewelry and Mont Blanc pens, puts employees through brand-specific training to develop customer-service skills.
Other strategies that Salter will suggest at the American Express gathering are organizing in-store client events and allowing buyers to customize products more. French luggage and handbag maker La Maison Goyard, for example, personalizes its products with initials and coats of arms.
The Luxury Institute's Pedraza says knowledgeable salespeople and a generous return policy are essential. Equally important is damage control.
Hermes's U.S. president, Robert Chavez, apologized on Oprah Winfrey's television show in September 2005 after she was denied entry to the Paris store as it was closing.
"When you screw up, you admit your mistake," Pedraza said. "You fix the problem, and then you overcompensate the customers."
Sedino says that after her Paris episode, the manager brushed her complaints aside.
"The experience really, really put me off Louis Vuitton," the London resident said.


Updated : 2021-05-08 03:38 GMT+08:00