So, I did something today I never thought I'd do - I spent an hour or so in a Louis Vuitton store.
See, I was catching up with a friend from uni. She did an IT degree, and worked for Accenture for years, but she's decided to look for a career change - and right now, she's giving working as a manager in luxury retail a try.
The experience was amazing. The staff in the store were fully aware that she was an LV person herself, and that if we did buy anything, we'd probably be buying through her, not through them. In any normal retail salesperson-gets-paid-commision environment, I'd expect that to lead to us getting second-class treatment while the customers likely to earn the salesperson something get preference - and I'd feel that such treatment was natural. That's not what we got at Louis Vuitton though. I was wearing some daggy jeans and a cheap t-shirt, and James was wearing the same plus some thongs - so again, I'd expect that staff at such a luxury store would not expect us to be giving them much income, and would thus not pay us much attention - but again, that's not what happened. It really was an experience
First, we were offered seats at a table, so that we could be in total comfort while the salespeople showed us their wares. These weren't cheap seats either - they looked like solid antique wood, with thick, comfy cushions covered in fine leather. I'm sure they weren't as antique as they looked, but they sure were comfy... We were then offered glasses of cold water - a small concession perhaps, but it was a bit warm outside and we'd been walking in the sun, so it was very gladly received.
We were asked about what we were looking for; our guide mentioned a couple of items she wanted to show us, the staff suggested a few more, and they were fetched hence. Fetched, I say - they weren't on display. They were kept out back, in calico bags to make sure they aren't damaged in any way.
One thing that was clear was that the staff weren't just showing us some random goods their store happened to sell. They all had knowledge of the range, they had a lot of knowledge about the history of the company, and they had stories about the history of individual items - what it was inspired by, who it was designed for, when it was first sold, etc. They all had immense pride in the goods they were displaying, and the all had their favorite pieces that they owned (or aspired to own).
Even things such as the fact that the leather used in most goods will change colour, crease, scratch, and otherwise age over time was dealt with. We were shown samples demonstrating what things would look like in 20-30 years time (and even longer, in some cases) would look like, and the staff were meticulous in pointing out to us which bits would change colour (and exactly what that colour change would look like), which bits were likely to scratch, which bits were likely to crease.... they didn't do this because they were warning us about defects which constitute normal wear-and-tear - they did this because they genuinely believe that such things add personality to the goods and make them more, not less, desireable.
Another thing that surprised me was the fact that the staff didn't seem to care who sold the bags to us, as long as it was a Louis Vuitton bag that we purchased. They didn't even seem to care whether we were going to be buying today, or might just be fantasizing about things far beyond our reach - all they cared about was making sure we understood just how wonderful their merchandise was. This even extended to the fact that the local sales person we were talking explicitly said that she understood that we were likely to buy from our friend (who works in another country, not just another store) and she didn't want to steal the sale from our friend.
That floored me. I'm used to retail environments where the salespeople don't give a damn about the product their selling. I'm used to retail environments where the salespeople only care about how much commission they're going to get. Seeing a retail environment where they salespeople didn't care which salesperson, or even which store, or even which *country* got the sale, as long as I bought a Louis Vuitton bag *and* considered such a purchase money well spent - that was astonishing.
On one level, it was a very interesting intellectual exercise: looking at how a retail chain that uses "luxury" and "enduring value" as differentiators operates - it's completly different to how a similar chain that uses "cheap" and "freely available" as differentators operates. It was interesting to see how well trained the staff are, how they weren't just reciting rote lists of facts about products, but were sharing with us intimate details of what amounted to their prized possesssions. It was interesting seeing just how much time and energy is spent making the customer comfortable, finding out what the customer is looking for, and otherwise ensuring the customer has a truly memorable 'luxury' experience - even if they're not going to be buying anything today, and if they do, this store won't be seeing any of the money.
On a completely different level, there are now one Louis Vuitton laptop bag (M93032 Messenger Noir) and one wallet (M92997 org. De poche Utah) that I will be buying as soon as I can reasonably afford same, and one notebook cover (R20409 Couv. AG. Taiga Ard) that I'll be buying just as soon as I can reasonably afford same AND can justify why I need a notebook cover when my handwriting is so poor that I never take notes.
Grrr. I see through their damn trickery, I know exactly what they're doing to me, and I still must have their goods.