Snubbed at the Mall? You’re Probably Just Ugly

The Daily News gives us a vague report on a "recent study" on customer service for women shoppers, leaving readers to determine the credibility and relevancy of the study themselves.

Sick of being slighted by that saleswoman at Bergdorf’s? Did it ever occur to you that you might be to blame for the brush-off — that perhaps you deserved it, what with your unkempt hair (ever hear of a blow-out?) and your bad outfit (what are those, mom jeans)? You see, in order “to get the fastest and friendliest customer service at clothing stores, women should look fashionable and well-groomed.” So reports Jean Chatsky, personal finance columnist for the New York Daily News.

Hey, don’t shoot the messenger. Chatsky is just reporting the findings of a “recent study.” But, as is so often the case with articles like this one, readers are not given any additional information about said “study.” Who conducted it? Who paid for it? How many women and how many — and which — “clothing stores” were studied? Without these details or some clue that might allow an interested reader to find these details on her own, how is she to determine how credible the study is or is not — or, for that matter, how relevant its findings are to her life? For all the Bloomingdale’s-browsing Daily News reader knows, this study involved six women shopping at Wal-Mart stores in the Midwest — and was sponsored by

As is also often the case with articles such as this one, Chatsky follows her “recent study” reference with a supporting quotation from an “expert” (i.e. someone who has written a book with a topical-sounding and often unintentionally hilarious title). In this case, readers hear from Jack Burke, author of Get What You Want: An Industry Insider Shows You How to Make Good Complaints, Fix Bad Service and Convince Companies that You’re Right, who scolds, “We as consumers have delegated the responsibility of our satisfaction to the company. We expect them to make us happy without us putting forth any effort, and it doesn’t work that way.”

In other words, you want the guy folding sweaters at Banana Republic to direct you to the pleat-front khakis? You’re gonna have to work for it.

Same goes, apparently, for Daily News readers.

Not so for CJR Daily readers. A Google News search on “study and customer service and well-dressed” turned up a March 10 article from the Cherry Hill (New Jersey) Courier-Post with the lede: “Attention ladies: The next time you hit the mall, make sure to put on something nicer than your sweats.” (As the home of the first indoor mall in the Eastern U.S., Cherry Hill takes its shopping seriously.) Unlike the Daily News, the Courier-Post provided enough clues (the name of the study’s co-author, Sharron Lennon, and her affiliation, professor of consumer sciences at Ohio State University) to at least allow an interested reader to Google up even more details about the study.

But back to Chatsky’s Daily News piece for a moment, the lede of which reads: “In a perfect world, you could roll out of bed, forget to run a comb through your hair, head to the toniest stores on Madison Avenue (or Rodeo Drive, for that matter) and still know that the salesfolk would cater to your every whim. In the real world, however, you’d likely get the same treatment Julia Roberts got in ‘Pretty Woman.’ That’s what a recent study confirms.”

Actually, what this “recent study” confirms is that you can’t roll out of bed, forget to run a comb through your hair, head to plus-sized clothing stores at malls and know that the salesfolk will cater to your every whim.

Or, more specifically, as the Ohio State PR folks summarized it, when two researchers “secretly observed interactions between [90] customers and salesclerks at three large-sized women’s clothing stores, timing how long clerks took to greet customers, and rating the clerks’ friendliness” they found that “customers whose clothes were rated as more fashionable and attractive, and who showed better grooming and make-up skills, received better service than those whose appearance was not rated as highly.”

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.