Wednesday, October 19, 2011

More on the Wacky Things Those Persistent Sales Associates Say

The other day, I walked into Sephora.

What compels me to walk into Sephora at this point, where nothing grabs my attention, is something I probably need to look into, but I'll get to that some other time.  Or not.  One thing I can always count on at the place is the unique pushiness of the sales staff, who rush over the moment I enter and hover there with their headsets, as though I intend to shove a bottle of - what?? - Taylor Swift's latest into my shopping bag?  I resent that.  Naturally, I do have my standards.

This time, a male sales associate I've seen before made a beeline for me.  His face was painted (I guess for Halloween?  I didn't ask) and he looked like a retrospective of every cast member of every production of CATS that had ever passed through town.  I couldn't help feeling, as I looked at his bright white eye contacts, that I was staring into the true soul of the Sephora sales force, so for that and the usual reasons I avoided making contact with him as much as possible.

Which only made him more eager to get my attention.  Maybe he thought I was aloof, and that frustrated him, or maybe I'm simply fat, because not a minute after he'd first tried to engage me he said, rather cheerily, "You look like you're putting on some weight."

I focused on a bottle of Coco, trying to figure out how to respond.  Situations like this stump me every time.  The hurdle for me is trying to wrap my head around the idea that anyone would go out of his way to be so blatantly ugly.  I simply answered, as cheerily, that yes, it's possible I am putting some weight on.

"It happens as we get older," he said, rubbing his tummy.

Maybe I should have talked to management - though that seems like a bad move, given that my contact info is in the Sephora system.  The last time I did something like that, my garden hose went missing and my house was vandalized.

This is probably the worst thing an SA has ever said to me.  But it isn't the first time I've had an uncomfortable experience at Sephora.  The last time I was in, I asked to smell Gaultier Le Male Terrible, and the sales associate, again a man, was so aggressively familiar that it short circuited my social skills.  That seemed to provoke him, because his interaction with me took on a sort of weirdly taunting quality.  He seemed to be making fun of my taste in fragrance, and was hostile to the idea I might need to smell Le Male Terrible (there wasn't a tester on display) to discern the difference between flanker and good old regular Le Male.

Maybe it's boredom?  Sephora bores me as a consumer, so I imagine it must bore its sales force.  I suspect too that the training the Sephora employee receives encourages a sort of aggression that can only frustrate the shopper, which in turn must humiliate and anger the staff.  But I might be giving too much credit to these two guys in particular.  Part of me imagines I was simply seeing their everyday personalities.

Anybody else had a sales associate say anything approaching the gall of the above?


Anonymous said...

I agree, an univited comment about weight gain, at anything other than a fitness equipment store (where the comment might be, you're program must be working, you now looked totally ripped).
However, the rudest retail experience goes to a woman in Australia, who herself is a sales assistant.
In a story reported widely last month, a Ms. Keara O'Neil was on a shopping trip to find bridesmaid dresses for her wedding and a frock at the "GASP" store. When she indicated that she was not ready to make a purchase that day (surely a reasonable comment for someone who might want to check with her wedding party on price and style), a sales assistant named "Chris" seemed to feel that this gave him the right to berate her.
He made a dig at her size 12 frame and yelling out as she left the store, "Have fun shopping at Supre... I knew you were a joke the minute you walked in."

Distressed by the treatment, O'Neil then sent a letter to the customer service centre at GASP, explaining that she worked in retail herself and wanted the store to be able to address the problem.
GASP, instead, chose to compound the insults. It sent the potential customer that Gasp* aims to appeal "to a very fashion forward consumer" and that the sales assistant O'Neil made a complaint about was a "retail superstar" who's "only problem is that he is too good at what he does."

It went on to say, "As I am sure you are aware, people whom are talented generally do not tolerate having their time wasted, which is the reason you were provoked to leave the store...

"It is probably fair to assume a lot of what I have said in this email either doesn’t make sense to you, or you totally disagree with it" and we "respectfully ask that you side step our store."

The story went international, and I suspect alot of people are now sidestepping their store.
* I am not from Austrailia and never heard of the store. After the store was reported across the world, I checked their website. The "forward fashion" consists largely of satiny gowns with glitz sewn on. The sort of thing, that teenagers wear to proms, not, what I would call for fashion forward.

Zanne said...

Holy Fokken Vile-of-Drek, that was seriously rude of him, dude! Felines are tricky, the pretend ones even More so. Yah, That cat was Way outta line. Should've sprayed him. You're perfectly lovely, Brian. :)


Bryan said...

I think it's appalling that he said that to you. As a psych student, I can say that people who blurt blatantly-offensive statements to others are, on some level, trying to intimidate them. Whether it's intentional or inadvertent in this case, only you could say. My guess is that he was trying to break you down a bit, and then perhaps build you up for some of the products in-store. Sounds like he failed with that tactic, as he should. Makes me not want to go to Sephora (I've never been)!

annemariec said...

I'm really sorry you had to put up with that. I have never been to Sephora (I'm in Australia, where it is unknown). But I think your linkage of boredom/aggressiveness/frustration and anger is the key to the incident you describe. In the brief time I was an SA (at a jewellers) the only interest I could derive from the job was to treat the customers as intelligent human beings and engage them in interesting conversation. This can lead to a situation where you find yourself agreeing with them that such-and-such a product as terrible and they should not buy it. Well, I didn't say that, but it probably shows up on my approach. So I was not much of an SA!

That said, with this latest incident you might just have encountered some maladjusted individual who should just not be in a customer service role. At least you get the satisfaction of blogging about this.

Once when I had really good (ie honest) service at a department store I emailed the company to say thanks, and the message I got back indicated that my appreciation would be passed right back to the SA concerned. So that was good. She deserved acknowledgement for her skill.

Kathryn said...

In such situations, I recommend the absurd response. My family’s catch phrase for responding to rude, unsettling, or otherwise perplexing comments is to reply, “So you say, Cynthia.” This can be murmured or said rather brightly, as circumstances suggest. It has proven highly effective in putting a stop to unwanted interactions, especially when the person you are addressing is not named Cynthia.

The one caveat is that calling a macho male a female name might give rise to belligerence, so you need to be careful about that. However, I think other near non-sequiturs might do as well. The works of James Thurber and P.G.Wodehouse are full of them. The point is to dismiss what the other person has said in a way that is as ridiculous and mystifying as what they have said to you, but to do it politely and in a way that will put them off balance. Think of it as parrying a thrust in fencing, returning a serve in tennis, or entering into a Monty Python skit.

There is, of course, a back story to my family’s Cynthia phrase, but it’s long and sort of pointless since it stems from a long ago argument among three year olds. It would probably be more interesting to make a story up yourself or even better to come up with an entirely new, all-purpose insult deflecting phrase, with whatever meanings attached that will help you to smile.

Brian said...

Anonymous, it's always the fashion foot in mouth who consider themselves most forward, I guess. That story is horrifying.

Brian said...

Zanne, I of course thought of many comebacks. After I'd left. Drats.

Brian said...

Hey Bryan,

He was definitely trying to intimidate me, I think. Why else? I hadn't consciously provoked him in any way. And the last time I was in and saw him he seemed perturbed that I didn't match his level of interest. My impression is that he was getting back at me. Had I actually gained weight since he saw me I might feel differently.

Brian said...

Annemariec, YES! I get that satisfaction. Good point. Oh how I wish I'd taken a picture to post. That would have been doubly satisfying.

Brian said...

Kathryn, I'm SO stealing that idea!

Elisa said...

That is unforgivable. You should have sprayed Wonderstruck in the whites of his eyes.

Brian said...

LOL! You are so right! Wonderstruck would be a fate worse than death in the eyes. And the whites!

CharlieChuckles said...

Well, that was just snarky and uncalled for. That warranted asking for his manager or an email to customer service.
I've never been treated that badly, but I had a less than optimal experience at a Dior boutique in Las Vegas recently. I was exploring Diorella,Diorama and Diorling for the very first time. I turned to the male SA to ask for samples and he kept pushing the latest dreck Poison flanker and other fruity stuff that was on the opposite side of the boutique. If I'm not over there, I'm not interested. If you see me spending 10 minutes with the classics, those are the samples you should offer me. I ended up just walking out and dropping $100 at the Guerlain boutique across the Strip instead.

Nadine said...

That is the most outrageous behavior in a salesperson that I have EVER heart of. I mean, WTF? Where was the manager?

That kid should have been run out of the store by the scruff of his neck and then kicked down the block. Have manners completely disappeared from our culture?

Sephora is one place I have never bought a single thing from anyway. How much respect can a fragrance store have for their items when they display them under hot lights all day? Proves they know nothing about fragrance.

queen_cupcake said...

Oh, Brian, I am so sorry you had that happen to you. It's just plain rudeness. I absolutely loveKathryn's strategy for dealing with boors like this and will definitely add it to my social toolbox for the most egregious cases. Usually, I calmly explain to the offender that I am not interested in his/her uninvited and unwarranted personal comments. But sometimes it takes more courage than I can muster. The insane but polite non-sequitur I think I could manage. My local Sephora, by the way, is staffed by polite and not overly-pushy SAs. Once in a while I have a nice conversation with one. And once, I was able to educate a pleasant, 50-something female SA on chypres--she appreciated it!
P.S. You look hot, darling.

Olfacta said...

I guess my worst -- and it's not even close to this -- was a Bloomie's SA who insisted I try the new Coco. When I exclaimed that it didn't smell very strong, she said "Well, that was how they used to make perfume." Translation: You're old.

I think Halloween has become tiresome. And the idea of the SA dressing up what, two weeks prior? That's ridiculous.

Consider the source.

RM said...

The older I get, the more mystifying and bizarre I find some people's behavior. I often think, "Geez, what's behind all that zany zaniness?" and have come to the conclusion that some people are either completely delusional or (and I mean this completely seriously with no sarcasm and definetely not to make fun of) have undiagnosed mental health issues.
I realise that's probably a big statement to make regarding the Sephora guys - I mean, I don't think that kind of behavior has anything to do with mental health issues. Clearly they're just morons.

JAntoinette said...

Ugh, I know how that kind of thing can ruin your afternoon. In such a situation I would model my reply on David Suchet as Hercule Poirot: after hearing a blatantly racist comment, Poirot looks the speaker in the eye, smiles his little smile and simply says, "That is not a very pleasant thing to say, Monsieur." Classy yet potent.

Brian said...

Hey Charlie, yeah, the cluelessness I'm used to, and though it often annoys me I've made the proper adjustments and feel prepared when I walk in. But this was different, and weird, and just stupidly, senselessly ugly. I thought about talking to the manager but it doesn't seem worth it. I think he wanted to bother me. And I imagine the management, ultimately, would only pat him on the hand.

Brian said...

Nadine, I might have kicked him to the curb had I not been afraid of getting all that greasepaint on me.

Brian said...

Yeah Olfacta, I've heard MANY comments like the one your lovely SA made. Usually directed at someone standing nearby. But this guy did throw age in, I guess: "That's what happens when we get older," or whatever he said. Of course, he's probably a good decade or two younger than I am, so that was probably a dig as well. He rubbed his tummy when he said it, as if commiserating with me about our emerging tummies. It was just so weird and--creepy.

Brian said...

JAntoinette, it's interesting you bring up Poirot. Yesterday I got a nine episode DVD set of the older Miss Marple episodes. I don't know what hit me but I was suddenly in the mood - maybe the cold? - for slightly vintage BBC Christie.

Brian said...

P.S. Cupcake: Thank you, gorgeous.

Brian said...

RM, actually, I do think there's a mental issue involved. The need to say things like that to intimidate people or set them ill at ease speaks to a real, pretty deep psych issue. You have to dislike yourself pretty seriously, I imagine, to bring that kind of ugly so recklessly and thoughtlessly to the table.

Denise said...

Unlike you, Brian, I find that when I do go into Sephora I am generally ignored by the SA's, I am a mid 50s, very fit, (mountain biking) women of at least, I would guess, medium attractiveness, who just doesn't register on their radar. When I do venture a question about a fragrance, they are absolutely clueless, so maybe it's better to be ignored than insulted.

On the other hand, when I go into my Neiman's, I feel like i am in the middle of a feeding frenzy, the SA's wanting me to sample the latest juice even if I tell them i am just there to smell x or y . Just this week, I specifically told an associate I was there to smell Violet Blond and the new Bottega and still couldn't get any peace.. which in turn led me to be somewhat rude... which in turn, led me to feel guilty... sigh!

Brian said...

Oh I feel your pain, Denise. No matter the store here, they come running. And they don't really pay much attention to cues, which might make their job so easier and a commission more likely.

Sephora in town is unbearable. They literally hover. It's so strange to me, but I assume they must have had many testers stolen and even product.

lady jicky said...

Oh what a shame you did not say
"that paint you have slapped on your stupid face has made your eyesight go "off"! " LOL

I am in Australia and I did not know of that dress shop called GASP until it went feral all over the TV - LOL who would go there now plus - the dresses I saw on TV were tacky shocking but ..... maybe that SA at Sephora would have loved them! LOL

I have been in a Sephora shop in Paris and I found the SA's kept away from me for I was - cough- older. LOL
I do like to be left alone while looking so age has its advantages Cynthia - I shall be using this one too now!!!! Thanks Kathryn

Brian said...

File under things I wished I'd said:

Him - You like you've put on some weight.

Me - You look like you've put on some ugly. Cynthia.

Miss Conduct said...

Sometimes people are just very clueless about social behavior--your Asperger's types. Of course such people would be unlikely to do sales at Sephora. I avoid Sephora solely because of the awful behavior of the SAs. The 2 or 3 times a year I do visit, I never see the same people working there. I went twice this summer to buy wedding makeup and almost the entire staff had turned over in a month. This, combined with their horrible, intense, aggressive, and utterly tone-deaf sales pitch leads me to believe that there must be a lot of pressure on them to meet a quota. Also, whatever process they use to screen applicants results in a sales force who radiate insincerity and desperation. The combination causes them to act awful.

I've thought about complaining many times, because the SAs always end up chasing me out of the store even though I go with money in hand to buy something. They just won't leave you alone. The only way to get away from them is to leave the store.

I must also add that it's only an insult for someone to notice you've gained weight if you yourself believe it's bad you've gained weight. I know people usually say it to be shitty but that doesn't mean you have to agree with their opinion of your weight.

Tania said...

What a nasty retail experience, Brian! I wouldn't have known what to say, either. But then, I suffer a lot from l'esprit de l'escalier. My first reaction to a hurtful remark is, well, hurt. I always think of the snappy comeback far too late.

I've never had anything that bad. Oh, I've had the swift up-and-down look which says 'hell no, not in your size!' from snotty salesgirls in fashion stores. And pure contempt from a perfume SA in one of our best-known Oxford Street emporiums, who apparently didn't appreciate my comments on various scents (I got a sneer and an 'If you say so' to everything. So I spent my money somewhere else).

But mostly, I just have to deal with hovering. Which I hate.
Oh, and the annoying manicure-set salesbots in House of Fraser. No, I do not want a £25 manicure set, thanks! If you don't even work for HF, and can't advise me on their stock, leave me alone, mkay?
Those people have driven me out of there a few times now. A shame, since it's my nearest stockist of Serge Lutens and Annick Goutal.

Anonymous said...

You should simply say: you are being very rude and annoying. Period. I don't know you people, but when I walk into a shop to spend my money I expect red carpets! YOU ARE NOT DOING A FAVOUR to them, it must be clear! If they keep on pushing, I say: I'm here only to take a look, today, so you can go assist somebody else, unless it is a problem for you. In that case, I'd like to speak to the manager. Always stress the fact that they're acting rudely. You are customer for crying out loud! They should worship you, especially in those hard times!!!