In our work, we talk to a wide range of luxury buyers. Men and women, in different countries, various ages, ethnicities. We hear all kind of stories, most of which are usually passionate and glowing. But last week I heard one that disturbed me and made me reflect about what luxury means (This incident did not happen at any of our clients, needless to say.)
An affluent Millennial woman of color described an experience of buying a piece of luxury furniture. This woman has exquisite taste. She buys luxury intelligently and enjoys it because she appreciates the artistry and rarity. And as any luxury buyer knows, a purchase isn’t just a product transaction; it’s an entire experience that usually involves a human encounter.
So this accomplished, lovely woman goes into a showroom in a TriBeCa high-rise to check out a beautiful sofa that she has been considering. She decides she wants it. But she is uncomfortable with telling the showroom rep it’s for herself – anticipating poor treatment as a woman of color – so she positions it as a purchase for her company. Ok, fine, but I mean, come on, she’s robbed of the lovely feeling of purchasing something she has earned for herself because she’s afraid of how she’ll be treated? That alone is wrong. But it’s just the beginning.
She is treated with suspicion and a few too many questions; it is not the gracious experience that was deserved. Worse, though, the rep orders the wrong piece for this woman, does not inform her of a lengthy shipping delay, and now the retailer is not returning calls. The woman lives in a NYC city apartment and is racking up costs with her building to store the wrong sofa indefinitely. Nothing has been done to compensate or adequately rectify the situation. The insults are piling up faster and higher than a stacked teak wall.
Is it that hard to view any opportunity to serve a POC who walks into a luxury retail space as a chance to overdeliver on gracious service? To begin to compensate for the disrespect they probably anticipate?
When luxury brands (even the most high-end) rely on wholesale for their retail transactions, it is perhaps more difficult to monitor or to know when bad behavior is even happening. But based on the accounts we hear talking to luxury buyers of color, it would appear that she was pre-judged. It happens way too often, costing luxury brands millions of dollars per year not to mention the undeserved emotional toll.
Luxury is more than a recognized logo that symbolizes craftsmanship and quality; there is nearly always a personal relationship involved in the experience, by nature of a more considered selection and delivery process. In our experience working with luxury brands, there is a spirit of civility, graciousness and generosity that provides the transcendent magic. The clients we work with at a corporate level always exhibit that. But as diversity and inclusion seminars thrive at the corporate level, it seems important that the front lines of customer contact are included and prioritized.