Where Have Our Favorite Sales People Gone?

As shopping habits shift to consuming less–particularly among high-end consumers–there’s an exodus of veteran staff at your favorite stores.

I occupy a pretty unique place in the shopping matrix.  A fraction but a critical part of my market intelligence gathering takes place on the floor of boutiques and department stores sourced directly from attendants who are as proficient at recalling their best clients’ sizes and waxing lyrical on the finer points of intarsia knits as they are at forecasting fashion’s future.

As a personal stylist with a clientele who count as some of the most consumptive and stylish on the planet, I have a hand on the compass that measures the pattern of high-end consumption. Having the ear of designers and boutique owners as well as talking shop with attendants has brought into focus the big picture of retail. By all accounts, things are fairly bleak and I’ve been sounding the death knell on fashion retail for nearly two years.

Together we’ve determined customer habits have altered so stunningly that shopping budgets are routinely slashed by upwards of 75%. Seasonal purchasing of a full wardrobe is an outmoded concept.  Generally speaking, this audience of historically high-end consumers is reprioritizing their life and interest in clothing and accessories is taking a back seat.

At one time a super seasoned salesperson could count on a lifelong career in retail to earn a consistent six-figure salary and service a loyal, needy clientele desperate to keep up. Have you noticed that your veteran salesperson at X department store is no longer there after a 10-20 year tenure? He/she was likely poached from a richer vendor desperate to co-opt a (hopefully still active) clientele built over decades. Or said salesperson has entirely left the industry, finding it untenable in a ‘sales and discount’ climate. But what of the culture of buying newly arrived collections?

In this anything-goes age, Instagram is more apt to influence your style choices than the suggestion of a long-standing attendant. Keeping up with the Joneses is more likely to involve a travel destination than the latest “it bag.” Price, even for the uber wealthy, has also become an annoying issue. Look closely at the price tags at stores, the perceived value and the actual cost of an item is wildly out of sync. If the value is not perceived and you’re faced with so many choices, including amazing alternatives at the mass price point, one will look elsewhere. The most expressed refrain however is ‘I have too much, I don’t need anymore things.’

They’re interested in a simpler existence, less materialistic and more meaningful. ‘I want a workable closet that is not overwhelming. I want to wear and rotate the clothes I own and feel less guilty about buying a few more things the next season,’ they say. Slipping away are the times of ‘I’ll take it in every color.’

To that end, most companies have had to recalibrate and institute a rigorous digital strategy or at the very least set upon exploring a plan to utilize the novel tools in digital to propel business forward. No doubt this is taking up some of the slack for brick and mortar businesses. However, by most accounts, the rosy and lucrative times we lived before are a thing of the past. The game has irrevocably changed and rules are being figured out to establish (albeit likely very temporary) new paradigms.