One of my favorite things to do while I am home is visit Saks Fifth Avenue.  I think I could spend the whole day in that store.  When I approach it, I swear I see a golden light around it (cue the angels).  I step inside and am in cosmetic/beauty heaven!  Most of the time my visits are spent entirely on the cosmetic/beauty floor (I am talking 2-3 hours just on the first floor).   I just love looking at all the products that I can’t purchase in Canada!

a small portion of the 1st floor of Saks; photo: Style.com

However this time around, my visit was quite different.  I got off the train at 42nd Street, walked several blocks to Fifth Avenue and made my usual right hand turn.  I noticed a new Sephora on my walk (no music or angels) and before I knew it, there was Saks (okay NOW music  and angels).  I was dressed fairly nicely (as I was meeting friends for lunch)-knit dress, navy trench, blue pashmina, coach cross body, Anne Klein flats, not too shabby.

I walked in and was immediately overwhelmed (think sensory overload).  First stop, the Bond No. 9 perfume counter-although there were kiosks.  I stopped at the first kiosk to sample their new fragrance and yes I did end up buying that.   I took a sample on my wrist and told the (very good looking) gentleman that I would be back after the perfume settled on my skin.  I went through them all- Trish McEvoy, la prairie, Tom Ford, Jo Malone, Kiehls, Chanel, MAC, Dior, Lauder, Lancome.  Not looking for anything specific but since it WAS Saks, I thought I would stop by a certain counter for a particular eye shadow combination that I have seen on several beauty blogs.  I won’t name brands but here is the conversation between myself and 2 beauty consultants at this counter:

Me: Hi, I am looking for *insert eyeshadown combo*

Beauty Consultant #1 (BC #1):  Oh I have never heard of that

Me: Well, I saw it on a couple of blogs and I think it would be in this section

BC #1:  Hmm, well those products come like this and have this name

Me:  Well, if you take this product out of the box, it lists the individual colors

BC #1: No, it doesn’t.

Me:  Yes, it does-could I have that please?

BC #1 hands me box, I open it and flip the product over to reveal individual colors and show BC#1.  At this point, I SHOULD have walked away but I stayed-HUGE mistake.

BC#1: Oh I am so sorry, I apologize.

Me:  No worries-so can I look at the other collections that you have to see if what I am looking for?

BC#1: Sure

BC#1 calls over BC #2 and explains the situation to her.  I am looking through the other products at this point.

BC#2: Well we don’t have that.

Me: Well if that’s the case, how come BC#1 didn’t know that your products are listed individually on the back?

BC#2: so what do you want though? I am telling you we don’t have this-what we have is out here on the  counter.

*here is the part where I really had to take a DEEP breath*

BC#2:  Well we don’t have that so you are going to have to let it go and move on.  You are acting ridiculous over this product.  We have other things you can look at.

Me:  (after sucking in my breath) Right. Yeah. Okay so I am going to go now.  Enjoy your day, because you haven’t helped me at all.

As I walked off, Mr. Good-Looking Bond No. 9 consultant was standing nearby. Here is our conversation:

Good looking:  Do you want me to call her manager because I know he is around here.

Me:  No-I have to meet someone for lunch in 20 minutes on the other side of town.

Good looking: Why? I would not let her talk to me like that.

Me:  Because if I had to wake up as ugly looking as her, I would be upset too. Besides, I have the last laugh-she misses out on a sale, I spend more money with you AND I have more room on my 4 platinum credit cards to spend somewhere else.

Good looking: Okay good point-but I will go get him if you want.

Me: Nah, I am late-no big deal.

I ended up buying the new fragrance from Bond No. 9 (Madison Square Park) which I highly recommend. I love Bond fragrances because they are all titled with NYC names.  The bottles are beautiful works of art and the fragrances can be blended.  The scents are very unique and last throughout the day. They aren’t tacky, obnoxious or overpowering.  I also love the service-I am on their email list. They send me samples every 6 months (yes to Canada) and call me if there are events/specials that they think I would be interested in.

Bond No. 9 Madison Square Park fragrance-absolutely heavenly-and check out the bottle!

Afterwards, I had an absolutely lovely lunch and spent the remainder of my day shopping along 5th.  But the bad experience still lingered in my mind and  made me wonder…  has counter service declined?

There was a time (as recently as last year) when I would hit a department store beauty counter and the employees/consultants/salespeople would be falling all over me.  Most of the time, when I approach a counter I am looking for something and will more than likely buy that product and something else!  But lately, I have been finding that it’s getting more ‘difficult’ to not only receive help; but also to get good service!  What’s up with that?

I decided to test out the ‘counter’ culture in Canada when I got home.  So I hit the Bay on Wednesday evening after work.  Again, dressed appropriately-nice dress, trenchcoat, scarf.  For some reason, upon entering, I default to the Chanel counter (automatic pilot almost).  Immediately, I had someone ask me for help but when I said that I was browsing, she stopped in her tracks, turned around and disappeared.  I spent about 2 minutes hovering around the foundations but left soon after.

I went to the MAC counter next-it was crowded (not unusual). Every makeup chair was taken by 30-somethings and young mothers.  No big deal, I circled around several times.  As the MUA (make up artists) passed by, they would say hello but no, “I’ll be right with you” or “Are you looking for something?”  I stood by the eyeshadows for 2 minutes, then moved to the foundations and stood there for 2 minutes.  Nothing. Hmph.

I moved on to Mica (mineral cosmetics). There was only one artist available and he was working on someone.  He stopped what he was doing and asked me if I needed help.  I told him I was looking and that I was interested in the pigments.  He apologized for being busy and gave me a card. He also said if I had any questions to please come back.  Eh, not bad. At least he acknowledged that he would be WILLING to help.

Finally Clinique-and I am not a huge fan to be honest.  Their counter is huge and long and had 5 people in white lab coats standing along it with flyers to hand out.  I approached the counter and noticed the chubby sticks (which I just posted about).  I knew that even if I got minimal assistance that I would be purchasing at least one of these, but was pleasantly suprised when the counter manager approached me to ask if I needed help.  I told her I was interested in the chubby sticks and she showed me the display and asked what I was interested in (shade wise).  Of course, they didn’t have the shade I wanted, but at least she looked and even went upstairs to see if they had any at their other counter.  So I let her show me some foundation, which I also ended up buying after she applied it to my face.  I asked some questions about primer and she showed me what was available.   I purchased the chubby stick and the foundation, and she gave me her card, added me to their database and threw in some samples!  Ding ding! We have a winner!

mini Clinique haul-all in the name of "research" mind you....

So I have decided that I will be conducting more ‘research’ in the future on this (ha ha ha-the best kind of research, don’t you agree?).  But overall, I am super disappointed-I feel and sense the “shift” in the counter-culture.   The appearance of  ‘self-service’ beauty stores like Sephora and Ulta have made the face to face interaction limited (I mean when was the last time you received “decent” help at one of these stores? Come on, be honest).  And what about online shopping? That takes customer service completely out of the equation for the most part (unless you need to return/exchange).  Is this the new trend? To take the interaction out of the sale?  Maybe it’s not limited entirely to beauty though…..

What do you think? Do you sense the shift in ‘counter-culture’? Should beauty/cosmetic counters offer exceptional customer service or do you like the hands-off approach?  Are you a Sephora/Ulta junkie or do you like having someone available to you for assistance?

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  • BeautyReflections

    Wow! I can’t believe she works at SAKS! Whenever I’ve been there, the SAs have been helpful. What a snot!
    I find that the most SAs at counters don’t know enough about their brands anymore. I know more about the products than they do! I don’t know what they do all day, but sheesh-walk around and get to know what you are selling. And because of that, I’d rather not be helped too much until I know what I want to buy. I just get annoyed with them because they don’t know what I’m talking about. The exception is my one Shopper’s, where the SAs know me and are really nice.
    The Sephoras where I am are actually really good at asking if you need help and will demonstrate anything for you, make samples, put makeup on you-I’ve had nothing but good experiences at my Sephoras.

    • meredith

      @T: I was shocked too…..but that’s partially my point. These people working the counters have limited product knowledge and close to zero customer service skills! Shameful!

      I am torn between needing/wanting assistance and being an independent shopper. If it’s something ‘serious’ that I know I will need help with, I will hit the department store counters. If it’s a product I use on a regular basis, I will go to Sephora and get it myself. The 2 Sephora stores I frequent (Eaton Centre and Bloor Street) are okay in terms of service. I have learned not to go during ‘peak’ times and if I need help I have 2 or 3 SA’s I know by name and trust to give me excellent help.

      Shoppers is another story….I have had luck at 2 in downtown Toronto but I have to travel to get to them (if I was in Brampton, I would frequent MakemeoverAnde’s store because she IS one of the best).

      I guess my concern is that in today’s society we are moving away from face to face interactions and communication. That worries me-will there be a point someday that we never actually have conversations? Are we completely morphing into point and click?

      • BeautyReflections

        Kind of like in WALL-E!
        That’s a scary thought. I hope not! I do like talking to people!

        • meredith

          oh me too! I know it seems somewhat “extreme” for me to say that, but I got the sense (especially in Saks and even at The Bay) that the counter people just wanted to stand at the register all day. The majority of them certainly didn’t approach me…and I had to be OBVIOUSLY standing and hovering for at least 5 minutes before I got a ‘Can I help you?’

  • Lisamarie

    Interesting topic! I actually get really annoyed with “helpful” sales people since I usually go to a counter knowing exactly what I want and I often find, more then the line’s salespeople do! So I have had the same experience as you were I have to tell the salesperson about the product I want! I expect because I don’t want the help is why I always end up getting it – it’s like cats knowing which people don’t like cats and those are the people whose laps they will jump into! 😉

    Best, Lisamarie

    • meredith

      Interesting perspective….I almost always approach a counter knowing what I want. However, I DO expect the representatives of the counter to know just as much OR MORE than I know regarding product. Plus…if I was a salesperson and had someone that I knew was familiar with my products, I would look at that as an opportunity to sell more product or talk about combining/layering products-especially if it was skincare!

  • Mama Dukes

    Being an ‘older’ person, I have noticed for quite some time, that customer service has flown the coop. If you are very sensitive, you’re better off shopping online. Most customer ‘service’ (and I use the term loosely) people, are between jobs or not taking their job seriously. After all, jobs are a dime a dozen, right?? Sorry to say, the generations coming up have less and less social skills (too many video games when they were little! No one had to share or communicate anything!). Of course, some of this also depends on the section of the country you are visiting. I find southern folks to be very friendly and helpful, but, then again, I have never shopped in department stores for makeup there, either. Unless you’re ready to change the world, I’m afraid you’re in for a lot of complaining! I prefer to spend my energies on more positive things, and if that means shopping online, bring it on! Good luck!

    • meredith

      point taken.

      Shopping high-end cosmetics and beauty products is an entirely different animal-it’s a very ‘personal’ experience. These are products that you are using on your face and body…..and that (to me) requires some kind of face to face encounter. I WILL spend the money (90% of the time) if you give me a reason, show me the product, provide me with information and/or apply it, and tell me how good it looks on me!

      I am not going to ‘complain’, I will just keep NOT buying from the less helpful!

  • Jenn

    I can’t stand customer service like that at all.. I have truly given up at the people who work at the counter. Thank god for blogs because I just go in with a list and come out. LOL

    • meredith

      Jenn-I understand your frustration. Do you know how much control it took for me to not slap that troll at Saks? I am truly thankful for blogs (like yours) as they have given me a new perspective….sometimes though, I like the help.

  • missmarisol

    Whoa! I can’t believe she acted that way. You should email Saks about it. What an unfortunate experience.

    I’ve noticed that CS has declined for the most part. if i get good or excellent service, it’s an anomaly which is sad because I know that there are a lot of people who work hard and get a bad rep because of a few bad apples.

    • meredith

      I know she really DID suck….she was so not worthy of my speech though 😉

      Sad to say that CS is on the down slope. Wonder if anyone is thinking about solutions?

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