Tuesday, September 7, 2010

There's a Special Place in Heaven, If Not My Heart, for the Local Department Store Sales Associate: Or, Some of the Wacky Things SA's Say

1. "It's the same perfume. They just changed the packaging."

You will hear this, most recently, in reference to Opium, and Shalimar. Both have changed: the latter more respectfully updated, the former pillaged and plundered. Which formula ends up appearing in the box you buy is anybody's guess. How much it smells like the tester bottle is too.

2. "You're in the women's section. The men's fragrances are over there."

It's a wonder I'm able to locate the store in the first place. I'm so bad at finding my way around. I get lost sitting still. Yesterday, I watched an entire episode of Golden Girls before I realized it wasn't Hogan's Heroes. Estelle Getty sounded so...German to me. I was halfway into The Departed before I realized Matt Damon and Leonardo Dicaprio weren't the same character. I point the remote at the refrigerator. I pet the couch instead of the dog. I always took toilet water literally, and could never figure out why my homemade refilling system never smelled as good. The Women's section? Really? I came here to repair the tire on my flat iron.

3. "That perfume has been discontinued. You can't find it anywhere."

Invariably, you hear this from one vendor who is located no more than four yards away from another vendor who stocks the item regularly from a discount source in some garage outfit in Peoria. The other vendor sells it at half the price. Many of these things appear on the shelves at TJ Max with a mind numbing regularity. The packaging shows a list of ingredients which makes it clear the product is not only still in production but using the cheapest materials the manufacturers can get their hands on.

4. "Women love this."

That's great, if the love of women is the kind you're looking for.

5. "The EDT and EDP are exactly the same."

I want to strip naked and dance all over the store when I hear this, tipping over displays. I know this sounds dramatic. And God knows there are more important things than perfume going on in the world. But here's the thing. I'm a stressed person. I might drink copiously if it weren't for perfume. I would develop another kind of addiction. I'm not saying crack. I'm not saying heroin. I'm just saying it would be something serious, and I can't tell you where I'd wake up in the morning, or what morning it might be. All I ask is that when I walk into some stupid store, which only stocks about four things I'm remotely interested in to begin with, and I ask whether they also carry the EDP, someone says, why yes, we do have the EDP, but you know, I think I prefer the presence of more vanilla in the EDT. If I can't have that then at least give me some good samples. If I can't have that either, move out of my way. I'll find you when I want to shell out some money.

6. "You seem to return a lot. Why don't you give me your girlfriend's name and number so I can call her and ask her what she really wants. That way you don't have to ask for so many refunds."

Let me explain how this works. Stop making sucky perfumes and I'll stop returning them. I'll retire my super glue. I'll stop oh so carefully opening new purchases from the bottom, spraying them once, repackaging them, and trotting on back to your little ninth circle of hell. At the very least, start learning more about the perfumes you're peddling. Become conversant in them. Admit they're not probably the stuff you just sprayed on a card. I don't expect you to tell me how wretched they really are. I just need a little more to go on. "Ooooh, I LOVE it" is pretty vague. What exactly do you love? If this were a restaurant and you described the food you wished to serve me with the same poverty of detail...oh, nevermind.

7. "How many perfumes do you have now?"

Pointing out a customer's sickness with a twinkle in your eye and a barely suppressed snicker isn't probably the yellow brick road to a commission.

8. "Here's a card with some of that sprayed on it."

In some parallel dimension, SA's are led to believe they can spritz something lightly on a piece of paper at 10 a.m. and a customer at, say, 3 or 4 p.m., smelling that piece of paper, will get the full panoply of aromas that scent has to offer. Here's a similar universe. I baked you a quiche, with fresh eggs, flour, cream, and cheese. It's cool because I left it out on the counter overnight. It's got paw prints on the surface because my cat has free roam of the house. Enjoy! Here's a universe right next to that one. I'm a model and I get laid all the time. Keep your eyes closed, please. My skin is highly sensitive to scrutiny and I rely on it for a living and free trinkets from admirers.

Sometimes, when you tell the above SA that the card is not sufficient, she or he will say:

9. "Let me spray some into the cap for you."

Where do I start? I love you. I feel for you. It's right out in public, what you do. That's got to be a pain at times. I would never go out in public if I could help it. All those demanding people. Everybody and their lousy needs. I feel for you, I do. But if you think perfume is something I want to smell from a stinking plastic cap held by a stingy hand we really have a problem here. That problem is, you bug me.

10. "I'm including a few samples of our latest fragrances in the bag."

It's a great comfort to me that when I'm done smelling something faint from a cap I can look forward to wiping something else on my arm from what amounts to a moist towelette. It's reassuring to know that I won't have to figure out where to put a little glass vial because this little treasure comes wrapped in peel away foil. It is a joy, a real thrill, to know that you've given me not a variety of things from which to choose--saving me much needed decision making time--but have limited my choice to Jessica Simpson, Paris Hilton, and some variation of Givenchy Irresistible. It was smart of you not to give much thought to what samples I might be interested in based on my purchase of an older Guerlain perfume. I am blessed to have such efficient thoughtlessness at my disposal. I would like to give a gift to you, too. Here is a piece of paper I once put my gum in. I've been sitting on it for weeks. Inside, somewhere between the gum and paper, I wrote down the combination to a locker in Grand Central where I have hidden ten thousand dollars and a week's supply of gummy bears.


Unknown said...

Loved it! Especially "You're in the women's section" because I get the reverse all the time, "Oh that's a men's cologne." I also hate "It's a chypre" to describe something fluffy that has just musk and patchouli in the base. No. It's. Not.

Karin said...

Ah, Brian, you're such a snob. I say that in a good way, of course. ;-) My latest perfume SA encounter re: Azuree, "It's a light floral." Huh????

Brian said...

I am! I'm a raging snob. When I waited tables I was expected to know what the hell I was serving, even when it was glorified baloney.

Daly Beauty said...

LOL everything you said is so true. And I love the idea of dancing naked through the department knocking over displays. I have totally wanted to do that too.

Katy Josephine said...

Oh, very nice post indeed - you're so right. This explains why I do most of my perfume shopping online.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
dissed said...

Best yet.

Anonymous said...

Thank you! That made me laugh. And I agree with everything you said, especially the part about the EDT and EDP not smelling the same, contrary to what the sales associates would have us believe.

Anonymous said...

LMAO, you nailed it!! First time I've visited your blog, and I'll definitely be back :)

Melissa W. said...

Hahahaha, this is great. If the perfume SAs are not going to know anything about the products they sell, then they need to get the hell away from me while I sample.

Angela Cox said...

I'd swear you've been shopping for perfumes in Reading U.K ..no ? Well I just loved this , the keyboard will dry I am sure !

Ines said...

This was great - I like starting my days with laughter.
Universal SA problems. I especially like the one with EDT and EDP smelling the same (that one happens a lot).
Btw, I've been told several times I won't like a perfume because it's for older ladies.

Kristina said...

This is a hell of a great article! Now I know I'm not alone with my very strong reactions (not positive) towards the SA crowd. Last week the head of the perfume department of some major department store tried to convince me that Cristalle EdP and EdT are exactly the same, just in different concentrations...

Karin said...

Yeah, no kidding. I actually moonlighted as a men's fragrance SA at Filene's some years ago. There was NO training. I had some interest in fragrance, so bothered to research scents on my own...but I was by no means an expert. And neither was anyone else in either the men's or women's fragrance dept. Scents were typically pushed based on spiffs and promotions, not on what they actually smelled like. It was pathetic to say the least. How were we supposed to know what "notes" were in the scents? If each fragrance company had provided a brief or something, at least we'd have a clue. But there was nothing. Boxes would show up with scents in them, and we'd put them on the shelves. We'd smell them and share our opinions with each other. Then hawk them. That's it. For someone who's only hawking and has no real interest in fragrance, they're not going to bother to learn about the scents on their own time. Especially when they're only making $7/hour.

I'm much better educated now. Would I do it again? Maybe if I had my own shop!!!

RM said...

Great post Brian! Very entertaining read. It's interesting to note that these particular quirks are so international - no matter where you are in the world shopping for perfume you'll hear and witness the same misinformation and ignorance coming from our beloved SAs! Must be some sort of global training course they all attend before starting the job.
But we should mention, however, the GOOD ones who DO know their stuff and even those that don't but are still friendly, professional and exceedingly helpful - especially in the area of free samples.
Also, working in the service industry myself, I often encounter rude and purposefully nitpicky customers so we also shouldn't forget it's not so great on the other side either!

Brian said...

True, RM. And I expect on some other highly opinionated, purely subjective blog out there, an SA is giving his or her own point of view, which has to do with some guy who shows up three times or more a week stinking of the perfume he's come to return. I support that blogger's right to his or her opinion. God knows I reserve the right to mine. Don't take me too seriously. It's just a way to pass the time.

The truth is, outside of Barney's, I haven't run into many good SAs. I've run across some jerk offs at Barney's too, mind you, but generally the SA's and consultants I've dealt with there have been fantastic to interact with. The worst by far have been Macy's. Big surprise.

But the chi chi department stores haven't offered much better. A recent trip to Saks was sort of shocking. I got the impression the SA's had wandered in from an episode of the Twilight Zone. Each time I asked a question about perfume, they stared at it on the shelf as if they'd never seem it before.

By it I mean perfume in general, let alone that specific kind. Did they have any in stock? Who could say? Did it spray from the bottom or the top? Was it one of those objects you throw at a wall to get it to dispense? Was it a sex toy? Could it be used as one anyway? Would it unleash a sexual tsunami within my psyche or the psyche of someone standing nearby?

I would love to tell you that for every four wretched experiences I've had there is one fine contradiction. I would be lying. SA's generally suck and the fragrance industry is far more interested in throwing new crap out on the market than articulating clearly just what kind of crap it is and who it might appeal to, besides an easy-pleasing tween in tight jeans and an ankle bracelet who will be whisked along by a strong stray wind of commerce into the path of any bullshit with shiny packaging and a smell that reminds her of Rihanna's love life.

RM said...

Lmao - honestly, you can be a bit on the cynical side but you write with great humour and panache (panache? What is this 1982? Does anyone still use that word?) who am I to disagree?!
And hell yes you have the right to communicate your 'highly subjective' opinion on your blog - that's why I read it. Always interesting, very entertaining, funny, honest and frequently frustrating! Ha ha.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I've just got to pop over to that SA blog you mentioned...

Anonymous said...

Yes. Funny.
In that pain-IS-funny way.
You forgot "this is very popular" (spraying the latest dreck on a card) and blank stare when request for a specif perfume is made. Like..no it's new..it's not popular YET and do I look like I'm here for popular? Cheryl

Charna said...

Your comments are hysterical and right on the mark. I worked for years when I was younger at the perfume counter at Macy's and Filene's and oh the stories I could tell!
My biggest pet-peeve is when the SA states profoundly, "This perfume is completely natural" and they're usually holding some Paris Hilton monstrosity . . .

Brian said...

Charna, I would love to hear some of those stories. I bet they'd be entertaining. I have to say, after all this, I found the perfect SA yesterday at the mall. She barely spoke English, and opened whatever bottle didn't have a tester. They're not supposed to do that, right?

Has anyone noticed that new perfumes send the stores the product before the testers sometimes? I wonder whether they do this on purpose, to build up anticipation, hoping people will buy blind? Maybe not.

This SA was great because she was very patient and smiled a lot but didn't know enough English to say much of anything. She recognized quickly that she'd probably make a commission no matter what with me, and let me go through my decision making process without rushing me or interjecting something distracting or totally fabricated.

Brian said...

Cheryl, what's weird is they never want to spray anything very good for you. I swear if I walk in one day and someone wants to spray something like Mitsouko or even Organza Indecence I'll croak like a frog. Even something new but interesting would be a shock. The thing is, I DO like cheap (and I might even LOOK it) but the stuff they never seem to be spraying the good cheap stuff.

Brian said...

Karin, thanks for the insight. I always hope, when I write about SA's, that someone who has or is been one will comment. It's not exactly an unheard of occupation for a fragrance lover, right?

Ines, I forgot that one! I once went looking for Shamilar and as passed on from one SA to another trying to find it. They all assumed I was buying for my grandmother, of course. The last SA who adopted me knew right where it was and walked me over. She was probably in her early to mid fifties. When we reached the counter the younger SA behind the counter, hearing what I wanted and assuming, I guess, that I must be buying for a girlfriend, said, "Oh no, you don't want that, it's for old ladies." I swear the first SA went whiter than she already was under her face powder. I felt so bad I wanted to buy seven bottles, for "each of my (nonexistent) sisters."

Brian said...

Ok, Kristina, what's bizarre is that while you were posting that I appear to have been out looking for Cristalle, after having spent time online reading about the differences in the edt and edp!

I went to the Chanel counter at Macy's, where the SA, who was super sweet and friendly, first helped me out by smelling my arms. I'd put Coco edt on one, Coco edp on the other. She knew the edp but couldn't recognize the edt. I suspect it was an older formula but wasn't sure. She said she prefers edp typically over edt, since there's really no difference other than richness. I didn't press it by pointing out that the concentrations are often pretty if not entirely different. I did tell her that while I often prefer edp myself I picked Allure edt over edp because it seemed brighter and more of a good time.

They had Cristalle edt but not edp of course and we talked about that, how stores don't stock it. She said Cristalle EDP is her favorite perfume ever, and she can't figure out what it is about the edt that she just hates. It's as though it's an entirely different fragrance, she said. I'd just read all about it and said I thought maybe the difference was very intentional and openly acknowledged, that Henri Robert did the edt much earlier, and Polge did the edp much later.

The thing is, she was so sweet, and happy to know it, and said, you know, I really know the least about perfume in terms of what I sell. It's true: I stood waiting for her before we spoke, as she helped several women with make up. But I appreciated her having a normal conversation, without trying to tell me I was wrong or crazy, even if she might have thought I was both.

Angela Cox said...

I just had to mention this. I was at the Guerlain counter yesterday trying to find out if they did pure perfumes in 7.5 mls .I couldn't get through to the girl who knew nothing about the perfumes but was desperste to sell this new anti-aging lotion with Royal gelly. I suffer badly from the menopause so my face was wet after a hot flush . She was determined to get this stuff on me before I started looking any older . I told her I don't use face creams and she gasped and stared at me . I should have said "I am 87 so not doing too badly". I do use cleansers but until my hormones settle I'd rather eat well than slap it on. I thought she was French from her accent but she was Russian . When she told me she only wears fragrance for nights out it was my time to look horrified.

Flora said...

Hilarious! This made my day. :-D

We have all been there, and thank goodness I have a real perfume shop to patronize. I still get a kick out of going to the department store and being asked if I want to buy the latest Calvin Klein or whatever because "everybody else is buying it." Yeah, that's just what I was aiming for!