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Reader Stories: Luxury Customer Service

Every once in a while I’ll receive a message from a reader about a bad experience in a luxury shop – the snooty salesperson, the uncaring manager, the security guard who follows you around like a hound dog while you simply browse. Its always disappointing to hear these anecdotes – while one can find bad service at any type of store – discount to luxury – with a higher price tag usually comes some expectation of service.

I’ve written a little bit about my own great and not-so-great experiences shopping in department stores, and today I thought I’d share a few stories from two readers – Belle and Rosita – who were kind enough to relay their own experiences at luxury boutiques. Both of these women are seasoned luxury consumers, who regularly travel to and shop all over the world, so I was eager to hear their stories. I thought these shopping snippets were fascinating (and sometimes hilarious), and I hope you do too. I’d also love to hear any of your surprising customer service experiences with luxury brands!

Goyard family

Rosita’s Goyard collection

Rosita’s Story #1: Throwing Off Inventory
Store: Goyard – Printemps , Paris

In Saturday, April 18, 2015 I visited the Goyard boutique in Printemps Paris and met with the Manager Willem. I purchased two Senat PM pouches, one black, one blue. I also purchased a St. Louis PM and had it customized. I paid for these items in two separate transactions, because I was leaving with the Senat but the tote would be shipped to me in the US when completed. On Saturday evening when I was compiling my detax forms, I noticed that I was charged the same price for both the Black and the Blue Senat, whereas the Black was supposed to be €120 less that the blue. I was flying out on Sunday morning so I did not contact Willem until Monday morning from the US. Willem said, “Yes, I remember you and I did realize the mistake at the end of the day, I threw off my inventory.”

So I asked if he could credit my Amex? No, he could not. Could he send me another color one and charge me the black price? No, he could not. He did suggest I give my credit card to a friend who might be coming to Paris in the next week so he could do a credit since he needed the physical card in order to a refund. I asked if I could have a credit on account since I would be back in a few months, no, I could not, was his response. He had no resolution and acted like it was no big deal.

In October 2015, I again visited the Goyard boutique in Printemps Paris. Willem was out to lunch but when I spoke to another sales associate and told him about the experience in April, he said, “Yes, I remember, it threw off our inventory!” I asked if I could possibly have an adjustment to the St Louis GM I was about to purchase and he responded “No, that would throw off the inventory”.  I Hope you are laughing about now, because I can’t stop every time I tell this story.

Rosita’s Story #2: The Mission Socks:
Store: Tabio – Paris

On this same October 2015 trip, I visited Tabio (a Japanese hosiery shop with 3 locations in Paris), as I always buy my daughter socks when I visit Paris. I purchased three pairs of socks and another six pairs of foot socks. This was on a Thursday evening; I left Paris early Friday morning. When I arrived home on Friday evening, I unpacked and could only find two pairs of socks and the six foot socks, 1one pair was missing. I checked my receipt and I was charged for three pairs.

On Saturday morning I called the store and was told, yes, we have your socks, the associate forgot to put them in your bag; we found them at the counter at the end of the day. I asked if they could send them to me and they said they would have to charge €24 for shipping. The socks cost €28.00. The associate asked me to send them an email with a copy of the receipt attached, as their customer service department would have to arrange for the shipping and payment. Since the next day I found out that friend was going to Paris that week, I asked him to pick the socks up for me. I called Tabio and informed them that he would be coming with the receipt to pick up the socks. The socks were brought back by my friend. When speaking to these salespeople at the time, I just got a sense like they did not feel obliged to accommodate me even though they were 100% at fault.

Katherine’s follow up: Will you shop again at Goyard and Tabio? 

I did shop again at Goyard and will shop again at Tabio. I was back in Paris in March 2016 and I did not visit either store but probably because I was just didn’t have time. I have come to accept the French and their indifference…

Belle’s Story #1: The Elusive Luggage Tag:
Store: Goyard – Paris Boutique

 

I am sure you are familiar with the Anjou—it came out last Fall and is like a reversible St.Louis.  With the Anjou you can also purchase a luggage tag that will be painted with your initials, but you have to purchase it when you buy the Anjou.  I was in Paris last Fall and bought an Anjou and wanted a luggage tag.  Unfortunately, they were out and were estimating 9 months until they were back in stock.  Since the rule is you have to buy the luggage tag when you buy the Anjou,I would have to pay for the luggage tag with the Anjou and then wait nine months for it.  I didn’t like that, but I could have lived with it.  But, there is more.  When you buy the luggage tag it take a number of days for them to paint it.  I was in Paris long enough that if they had a tag, I could have had it painted and taken it home with me (or could have purchased in advance of my trip and picked up while there).  But because they didn’t have any, I would have to have it shipped nine months later, at a cost of 210 Euro (for something that  cost something like 250 Euro).
When in Paris,  I asked if they would comp the shipping to me (a US firm probably would have), since I was paying so far in advance and wouldn’t have had to pay shipping if the luggage tags had been in stock.  And the sales associate just said “Oh, NO”, almost as if I had asked him if I could have the bag for free!
Alhambra heaven

Some favorite VCA pieces of Belle’s

 

Belle’s Story #2: The Special Requests
Store: Van Cleef & Arpels, New York

 

I love my Van Cleef, but feel like the company operates like their gift to you is that they are doing you a favor letting you buy their products.  I have a couple Van Cleef stories…

 

Special request #1: Necklace combination

 

I decided I wanted to combine two 10 motif vintage Alhambra necklaces, because I always wore them connected.  I submitted the request to the New York workshop shortly after Christmas one year and they submitted the request to Paris.    I called several times over the next eight months to see where they were on the request.  The answer was always “sometime soon”.  I ended up taking until mid-September for them to get back with me. At that point, they did say that they would allow the combining of the two necklaces, I thought the fact that it took nine months for an answer was crazy! But at no point in time did anyone from Van Cleef think it was anything other than perfectly normal for a simple request to take that long.
Special request #2: Custom order

 

I wanted a necklace that had just been discontinued and asked if Van Cleef  could make one for me.  I was told yes, so I placed my order, paid for it, and waited.  When the necklace arrived it was the wrong necklace — one by a similar name but the wrong necklace.  I asked that the necklace (that was the wrong one) be returned and that the correct one be made, and Van Cleef was not pleased at all.  I would have thought they’d be “oh we are so sorry”, but they acted like I should be happy with the necklace I got.  It all worked out, but it really felt like they felt they were doing me a favor.

 

Katherine’s follow up: How did these interactions impact your views on Goyard and Van Cleef? Would you ever think about purchasing less from the houses?

 

Well, the general idea (at least in my opinion)  is in this country we have developed an attitude that the customer needs to be accommodated and luxury stores go to great lengths to do so.  Whether it is holding things, very liberal return policies, free shipping, making exceptions…….we take all that for granted.  We think, “…of course they should do that for me — I am the CUSTOMER!”. But in France especially it seems to me that the attitude is “…we are the COMPANY! And this is how we operate, there will be no deviations, and you have to fit within that. ” 
So the first time you run into this attitude you think, “What?  Why am I not being accommodated?”  But over time I have realized that they are operating within the French mindset.  So the option that I am looking for isn’t even within their realm of possibilities.  A French customer wouldn’t expect what I would expect, and a French company wouldn’t think to do it.Now that I understand all that, I am not so bothered by it.  I usually want the things I want — Van Cleef, Goyard — so I just know that if I truly want them then I have to buy them understanding all this.  So, I haven’t bought any less.

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  • Karen
    April 18, 2016 at 10:01 am

    I got a pretty customer experience from Hermes Sevres back in 2010. Purchased a 30cm Lindy and was charged with the 34cm without noticing it until I got a letter from Hermes after returning home. I was told to contact them and provide my credit card info and will receive the price adjustment. ( am sure their system got threw off as well) Everything went smoothing and I seriously won’t have notice it even the receipt was clearly stated at 34cm on it. This also happened this past Dec at FSH. Was reading the receipts at night and found I was charged with an item that I didn’t buy and the item I got wasn’t paid for. Went back to the store the next day to get it taken care of. But ended up purchased even more to used up the adjustment credits. 🙂

    • Katherine
      April 19, 2016 at 10:42 am

      I’m impressed quite honestly – I wouldn’t have expected that from FSH, especially for the price adjustment! Thumbs up to Hermes 🙂

  • Sonya
    April 18, 2016 at 10:01 am

    Fascinating tidbits, and Belle’s Van Cleef collection is fabulous. I started my own decades ago and amassed quite a few pieces, including Modern Alhambra…..but her’s is something else!

    • Katherine
      April 19, 2016 at 10:43 am

      The Modern pieces are gorgeous. I’m sad they were discontinued!

  • diane
    April 18, 2016 at 10:04 am

    I find the recounting of these experiences, and the conclusions, to be excellent information for the rest of us. Buyer beware.

    On another note, I really miss the interview posts that you used to do.

    • Katherine
      April 19, 2016 at 10:44 am

      Hi Diane, thanks. I’m working on a few interview posts but they take a while… 🙂

  • Keren
    April 18, 2016 at 12:23 pm

    I guess I’m accustomed to the customer service at luxury stores in the US. Even some of the lower end stores provide good experiences. For the most part, it is expendable income, especially for expensive purchases.
    I agree with Diana, I miss your interviews.

    • Katherine
      April 19, 2016 at 3:11 pm

      You’re right that even lower end stores provide good service…we have it good here!

  • Sarah
    April 18, 2016 at 2:58 pm

    This may sound weird, but I find customer service in the US TOO accommodating- a bit scary actually. It’s all fake smiles and sell, sell, sell. They will say or do absolutely anything to clinch a sale. In Paris and London, I ve had proper imput into what suits me and what in all honesty, I should never dare venture outside the door wearing…😃And I appreciate that.

    • Katherine
      April 19, 2016 at 3:12 pm

      I understand your viewpoint! I love that my SA in France gives me direct, honest feedback – its saved me from a few bad purchases!

  • TC
    April 18, 2016 at 7:49 pm

    As I get older, the fewer things I have to have, so I will walk away if I get less than professional service. I’m a low-key customer: I don’t make unreasonable demands, when I walk into a store I am ready to purchase not just look, and I rarely return items. I don’t need the fawning, I don’t need the champagne or coffee or whatever.

    What I want is for sales associates to offer help, know their product line, follow through on their promises, and when the store eff’s up that they attempt to fix it to my satisfaction. The reason I shop at high end stores is to get this kind of service. And if I get bad service enough times, I simply will stop shopping at that store.

    • Katherine
      April 19, 2016 at 3:14 pm

      This is exactly how I am now…I think I’m quite an easy customer, so its still surprising for me when SAs don’t follow through on simple promises, like sending an item on time, etc.

  • Revanche
    April 18, 2016 at 8:05 pm

    Interesting! I think that US accommodations can sometimes be more generous than necessary but when the company or clerks are at fault, I would expect any company to make it right. Certainly I would expect that even more from a luxury brand! I’m not asking for special accommodations or attention but if I’m choosing to spend a lot of money, then I expect you to do your jobs right. Nothing more, nothing less.

    Like TC above, I just want the basics and don’t make demands so it’s not unreasonable to expect better service if it’s meant to be luxury. I guess I just don’t want anything badly enough to be willing to tolerate poor service 😀

    • Katherine
      April 19, 2016 at 3:15 pm

      I don’t usually tolerate poor service either…unless its for good Asian food then I frequently tolerate it, lol.

  • tokyoite
    April 18, 2016 at 9:06 pm

    I agree completely with TC’s comments. When you buy an item with a margin of 200% you want to ensure that you are paying for impeccable service. Period. With the Chinese economy slowing down and consumers in Asia retrenching (the growth-driver for all of these firms) it’s even more important for luxury goods companies to understand the importance of customer service – from beginning to end. I’ve come to a point where ineptitude, indifference and downright rudeness will send me out of a shop. They’re the ones leaving money on the table, not me.

    • Katherine
      April 19, 2016 at 3:15 pm

      Totally! You’d think with the situation right now with Russia, China, and oil prices, we’d see better service…maybe we will!

  • Coco
    April 19, 2016 at 5:53 am

    I would really love to hear the input from your French readers regarding the 2 situations.

    I expect customer service to be a certain standard no matter where I shop (more so from luxury brands). I have walked away from several luxury purchases when service isn’t there. When I take out my item to use, I want to recall the enjoyable shopping experience I had rather than remember a horrible experience.

    • Katherine
      April 19, 2016 at 3:16 pm

      Yes, if I had a very bad time buying an item, its not worth the item in my experience…too many bad memories as you say.

  • Paris
    April 19, 2016 at 11:43 am

    My boyfriend is French and has remarked numerous times on the differences between US and French consumers. I think we nesd to understand that we cannot impose our culture on others.

    • Katherine
      April 19, 2016 at 3:16 pm

      I’d love to hear more…does he prefer French or US service? 🙂

  • Sara
    April 19, 2016 at 2:03 pm

    I completely agree with most of the comments. Part of the expectation when buying a luxury item is an expectation on the customer service, not just the item itself. I am definitely not advocating for the customer being right no matter what (a.k.a. ridiculous demands) but I do believe that things like company/sales associate errors should be corrected immediately.

    I suppose accommodations made for special requests (again within reason) are not “required” of any company, but I think it goes a long way to enhance the shopping experience and reinforce the idea of “luxury.”

    I loved what Coco said about recalling an enjoyable experience when using her items. I too have walked away from a purchase because of the customer service. It is just my opinion that luxury shouldn’t be a difficult or unpleasant experience 😛

    • Katherine
      April 19, 2016 at 3:16 pm

      Completely agreed!

  • Ava Lon
    April 19, 2016 at 10:46 pm

    Dear Katherine,

    What an insightful post – it was really interesting to read about both of their experiences! While I agree that one should not impose their culture on another, in luxury regardless of country, luxury is luxury and as such, paying a premium does have a fixed amount of civility and proper manners or at least it should. I think that if the store made the error as in Rosita’s situations I thought it quite rude of both Goyard and Tabio to be so ridiculous. She is far more forgiving for the many errors they made (many for the initial error and then their failure to rectify it on their own) and saintly for continuing to shop with them. I think when a store is clearly in the wrong they should try to make some sort of amend for it. She wasn’t asking for something for free, she offered to pay for another colored item, but still they refused? That is simply outrageous – I hope Goyard changes their silly rules when they are in the wrong.

    And then with Belle and VCA…why even say “yes” to a request and then belittle her? Why not just deny the client’s request to begin with?

    On top of all this, I do, however, think that when a luxury retailer opens shop in another country it behooves them to adopt some basic manners, norms and mores of their host country for that elevated attention to their clients – isn’t that what luxury is all about? To think Rosita would have received better customer service from the Monoprix in Paris is really saying something about Goyard and Tabio – for shame!

    Excellent post, Katherine! Keep up the wonderful work and that Zara dress – you should buy a back up bc I foresee it becoming a workhorse! So chic and cute! Zara has really been upping their game lately!

    Big kiss to Baby Feather! 🙂

    x
    Ava

    • Katherine
      April 22, 2016 at 10:36 am

      Thanks Ava! You’re too kind 🙂 Look into the Zara dress for yourself – there’s a matching jacket too!

      • Ava Lon
        April 23, 2016 at 3:11 pm

        Lol! I was just going to email you to get the jacket as well! I did look around for the jacket but it is sold out on this coast. Perhaps you will fare better and get the jacket? I think it would look so cute on you with some dark denim and flats – even cute trainers or flip flops! I can’t do white, it’s just a coffee-stain-magnet for me – lol! 😉 Have a great weekend!

        x

  • Helen
    April 19, 2016 at 11:25 pm

    This is such a fascinating post. I have a hard time stomaching the rudeness that comes with certain luxury stores. I am of Asian descent and find sometimes I’m fighting the entrenched attitude against mainland Chinese shoppers at quite a bit of luxury stores (a very unpleasant experience if you’ve never experienced it). When my first daughter was born, I wandered into the local Hermes as I was strolling her through the mall for some exercise. I was definitely not the most sparkling version of myself; post partum, slightly chunky, hormonal and all that. The Hermes sales associates looked at me like I was a leper. I left thoroughly dejected. VCA was a few doors down and it was not a brand I’ve ever looked at before. I strolled in and received the best buying experience ever. One of their associates strolled my baby around the shop while Vittorio (whom I believe is at NYC VCA now) treated me with such attention while I picked out something small (sweet Alhambra for my daughters 100 days). The two experiences juxtaposed so closely together always reminded me of the perils of luxury shopping. I always have a soft spot for VCA thereafter, but, like Belle, have been very frustrated by their non customization policies. I do still buy Hermes, but honestly have found most of the shop experiences very unpleasant.

    • Katherine
      April 22, 2016 at 10:37 am

      Oh that’s an awful Hermes experience – as an Asian shopper myself unfortunately I totally know what you are talking about. I’m glad you had a wonderful experience at VCA though – what a nice memory to have for your sweet!

  • Oonagh
    April 20, 2016 at 3:51 am

    Goyard does NOT come out of this well!

    • Katherine
      April 22, 2016 at 10:37 am

      Yes! Such a pain as I love their products.

  • bisbee
    April 20, 2016 at 4:03 am

    I am not a luxury shopper by any means…at least, not regularly…but I am appalled by the non-service shown to both women. Attitudes…that I can tolerate, and did when in Paris…but refusal to right a wrong, when it is clearly the fault of the store? Absolutely not…and I would have politely pursued an acceptable resolution up to the top!

    • Katherine
      April 22, 2016 at 10:37 am

      Yes, I’m probably the same way…but it can sometimes feel like pushing a boulder up a very steep hill!

  • Kristen
    April 20, 2016 at 5:32 pm

    This was such an interesting post and comments section. I would be very curious to hear how consumers from non-US countries view US customer service.

    In a similar vein (and perhaps for another post), any thoughts/suggestions on how to find and cultivate a good working relationship with a SA?

    • Katherine
      April 22, 2016 at 10:38 am

      Hi Kristen, that’s a great question, I’ll think about that..maybe a future post 🙂

  • Jessica
    April 21, 2016 at 9:52 pm

    There was a study a few years ago that said rudeness at high-end retailers actually boosted sales, which I found simply fascinating: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140429085627.htm

    • Katherine
      April 22, 2016 at 10:38 am

      I remember this! So interesting.

  • sherry @ save. spend. splurge.
    April 22, 2016 at 12:01 pm

    I am not surprised for 2 reasons:

    1. You purchased in Paris

    2. You were a foreigner

    I know this is possibly stereotypical and it sounds terrible but.. frankly, Parisians don’t care when foreigners come by to buy their goods because they are assuming that they will NEVER see you again.

    So if it ended up in their favour, getting more money and you didn’t bother to go back and get it rectified, why bother fixing it?

    Not only that, I find that shopping in Paris in particular, I get the “you’re a foreigner traveling in Paris therefore you have more money and me, and therefore can afford to lose it to support my business”.

    In contrast, I find that Anglophone countries tend to care about repeat business a lot more and will do what they can to make it right.

    I never, EVER leave a store, ANYWHERE for ANY REASON without checking my bags now. It has become a habit, unfortunately, and I MAKE SURE they remove the tags and give me what I paid for.

    People think I’m nuts and even a bit rude but I don’t care.

  • DV
    April 22, 2016 at 9:40 pm

    The stories remind me of the apocryphal Napoleon dismissal of England as a “nation of shopkeepers.”

    The French are not comfortable with commerce that it too enthusiastically capitalist, and this includes Anglophone notions of good customer service. If the cherished notion of égalité dictates that all Frenchmen are equal, the naturally subservient nature of service professions makes for an awkward ideological fit. Further, strong labor laws make replacing mediocre employees difficult, further blunting sales associates’ incentive to go above-and-beyond for their customers.

    Ultimately, it’s about expectations: when employees are expected to give excellent service, they generally do. When they aren’t….

  • elizabeth
    April 24, 2016 at 9:52 am

    I find this very interesting. It seems that some people feel they are buying, along with a luxury item, an attitude of deference, and that this is part of the value. It’s true, a real luxury shopping experience, with kind people bringing champagne, etc., is really wonderful. But I think as luxury consumers it’s also important to examine what we think we’re getting from a transaction and why we value it. I know a lot of people who won’t buy a bag from a reseller, for instance, simply because they want “the experience”. The item is almost secondary and they are willing to pay more to have a special retail moment.
    So, we buy “things”, but we are also buying, or wanting to buy, something else that comes with those things.
    I know, for instance, that if I carry a Birkin or Kelly into most stores I will get completely different treatment than if I carried a no-name bag. The difference is actually kind of wild. I prefer to be treated well, but I’m also aware that these salespeople are operating on truly shallow and fairly awful assumptions.
    So..sometimes I think that what we are all actually missing is true human kindness, warmth, and unbiased treatment – and it’s a little bit of a shame that that doesn’t happen every day, at any kind of store, no matter what we are buying or carrying.

    • Bee
      April 29, 2016 at 12:21 pm

      Elizabeth – this is a great comment which hits a lot of interesting points about luxury shopping. Thanks for sharing!

  • In the world of Save. Spend. Splurge. | Save. Spend. Splurge.
    May 13, 2016 at 10:01 pm

    […] Reason #923546 why I check my bags before I leave, particularly abroad. This is particularly rampant in Paris I find, where they don’t bother to try and help generate repeat business or try to keep you. I know this is possibly stereotypical and it sounds terrible but.. frankly, Parisians don’t care when foreigners come by to buy their goods because they are assuming that they will NEVER see you again. So if it ended up in their favour, getting more money and you didn’t bother to go back and get what you are owed, why bother fixing it? Who cares about foreigners? […]

  • SarahN
    May 17, 2016 at 2:21 am

    My experience, both Hermes and Cartier are far better than this.

    Bought a Hermes silk scarf as a gift – they’d exchange it in any Hermes anywhere in the world if she didn’t like it. Without a receipt. And they did! Bought it Paris, swapped in Sydney

    Cartier – no pressure sales techniques etc, my parents got the wedding rings there – in NYC prior to marriage, bought in Sydney, and re-bought after a robbery just lately – all really positive experiences!

    • Katherine
      May 18, 2016 at 8:55 pm

      That’s great service on both parts (so sorry to hear about the robbery though!).