9.27.2008

Money talks

Friends. It's been a while!

I hope you'll excuse my lack of writing in this space. But a lot has changed in the past six months. I got married, changed my name, and - perhaps most importantly - got a new job. I am no longer a Retail Planner; I am now called a Senior Strategist. The new title is hot, huh? But it means that my focus, at least professionally, is no longer solely in retail.

That said, I am still a curious shopper. I will continue to write, though perhaps less frequently, as the curious shopper. I still do a ton of shopping, and I still think about how to improve the user experience. I still carry a camera everywhere I go.

That said, I was unfortunately not carrying a camera at the scene of this post, because I was in Barcelona. This amazing city is unfortunately full of pickpockets, so we thought it best to carry as few valuables as possible. I hope my retrospective shot of the bag will suffice.

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So we chose Barcelona for our honeymoon. Why? Besides the amazing architecture and gorgeous coastline, we were ready for some shopping. And you can't get more chic than Europe. We actually made a game out of spotting the hipsters, the whole trip looking for men and women that we deemed "tres chic." (I'm aware that this phrase is more French than Spanish, but let's not focus on that).

So we're having lunch in a plaza when we spot two tres chic guys. Dressed alike, they must be employees of some superhip store. We finish our lunch and follow them around the corner, hoping for a totally cultural, uniquely Spanish boutique. What do we find? Hugo Boss.

But this is fine. We're not aware of a Hugo Boss store in Chicago, and even if there was one, this is Hugo Boss Barcelona. Surely it's awesome.

So we walk in. The place is like a fashion museum. Every skirt and blouse is hanging just so. There is one, maybe two of each item, giving the distinct sense that you should only hope you fit into an extra small. There are tres chic salesmen everywhere, in fitted shirts, slim trousers, skinny ties and shiny shoes. I'm suddenly aware that my hair is messy and I'm wearing flip flops.

But I hold my head high and start browsing, taking extreme care not to mess anything up. I pull out a coat and let out a gasp. It's breathtaking. Immediately an employee is there, asking if I'd like to see it. He starts taking it off the hanger, then pulls out the tag. "The cost is 685 Euros." I grimace. Defeated, I say "Okay well...I guess that's out of my price range." He puts the coat back.

I almost give up right then, but decide to keep going. If I left now, I'd seem like even more of a loser. And I might have money! They don't know!

I find some pants with potential and a shirt I like, but the sticker shock has me reeling. (Remember that Euros are almost double dollars these days). So instead, I make my way downstairs, where my husband (eep!) is about to try on pants.

Huh. His salesperson is acting a lot friendlier than mine was. She's showing him the selection, finding his size and making suggestions. And the pants? When he comes out of the dressing room, I have to clap. "Tres chic," I repeat, "tres chic." We decide that this huge bump in quality and fit is worth the price, and that this will be his big-ticket souvenir. We can't afford ten pairs of Hugo Boss Barcelona pants, but we can afford one.

Or maybe two. I start to think it's my turn, so I head upstairs to grab the pants that caught my eye. Now the salesman is suggesting a blouse to try them on with. Okay, well this is a nice change of attitude! When I come out of the dressing room, it's my husband's turn to applaud. The pants are ridiculously flattering. They meet every single one of my pants criteria. Long enough, low enough, tight enough, the right color, the right waist, even the right pockets. These pants were made for me. I felt I had been searching for them all my life.

And then the whirlwind really hit. One saleswoman was handing me the suit jacket that went with the pants. Oh, they are part of a suit? Another was handing me 3-inch heels to complete the outfit. Wow, my legs look amazing! The original salesman was asking if I'd like coffee or water. As I checked out my completely transformed power businesswoman self in the mirror, he was holding out a silver tray with a champagne glass of water. I had gone from an inconvenience to the star of the store.

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As we stood at the register, me still sipping from my lovely water glass, I was feeling euphoric. Here we were, a power couple. A couple with careers. Careers that needed pants. We were not tacky American tourists. We had money and we meant to spend it. Spend it on...

"Excuse me? The machine is not accepting your card."

My face felt flush as I asked the man to try again. Perhaps something was wrong with the machine. He tried again, then called the service line. As he spoke Spanish into the phone, my husband and I exchanged nervous whispers. "There's nothing wrong with our debit card...right?" "Shouldn't be, I put an international alert on it." "And it's worked fine so far." "Unless this is more than we have in our account..." "Oh yeah..."

The man hung up and proclaimed, "It is not the machine. It is your card. Do you have another card?"

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As we walked away from Hugo Boss Barcelona, we felt like a couple of clowns. Who did we think we were, millionaires? Sure, we have jobs but we're not the kind of people who can prance into shops and spend hundreds on a whim! No, we were just two Americans, probably broke from paying for a wedding. We felt really, really embarrassed. Like phonies. I just kept asking myself, what happened in there?

Well, I think I know what happened in there. Frustrated because of poor treatment, I'd felt a need to prove my worth. "I'll show them," some part of me probably said. "I'm somebody. I'm worthy of your clothes. I can afford you." And then, out of my defiant overconfidence, an elite club had opened its doors. For a brief moment, we took a peek into the world of wealthy people. And it was thrilling. Special treatment is quite the rush.

But when it sweeps over you, it tends to mask reality. As we walked back to the train, we asked each other the hardest of questions. Could we really have afforded that? Are we really Hugo Boss customers? Was this whole card thing a blessing in disguise? Were the pants just not meant to be? Who do we think we are?

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Well, as it turns out, our card was fine. We went to an internet cafe and checked our balance. The funding was there. We went home anyway and grabbed a credit card. Then, because I felt that I could not leave Spain without those pants, we went back to the store. The salesman kindly tried our original debit card again, but no dice. Somehow, that card and that machine were just not meant to be.

But our other card worked fine, so we got the pants. What we also got was a reality check. A serious examination of our place in society. We're not broke, but we're not millionaires either. Buying clothing at Hugo Boss was immensely exciting, but we can't do it every day. Maybe someday, we'll have another chance to be treated like rock stars. Maybe someday a regular store will treat everybody like rock stars. But until that day comes, we're back to America and back to reality. Paying off our credit card like everybody else.

8 comments:

Ellie said...

I have a great book about the retail industry.The book, Discovery Based Retail by Phil Mitchell, gives great insight as to how to get ahead in the retail industry and stay ahead. I recommend!

Hillary said...

a) there's a hugo boss store on mich.ave. but i haven't been in the remodeled space.

b) if all stores treated you like rockstars, it wouldn't be treating anyone like a rockstar. the exclusivity is what makes it feel like that. if customer service were superb everywhere, it wouldn't feel special.

c) you were right, good post. now i need to see the pants.

SusanA said...

What an excellent post. I really like your deconstruction of the emotions and how others were responding to you.
Very well done.

Adam StJohn Lawrence. said...

Hillary, I disagree.

Certainly the exclusivity adds a great deal, but the staff in that Hugo Boss did nothing that would not be possible in a budget store. After the initial problems they were attentive, proactive, and took care of the customer's comfort. All of that costs nothing - just a focus on the customer experience.

And it probably helped that the "tres chic" staff felt like stars themselves. In my experience, that is three-quarters of the battle.

Best,

Adam

Mystery said...

Hi Sara,
Im from Indonesia ,
you might want to visit Indonesia as your second honeymoon :) ( well dont get me wrong, with same husband of course )

Nice to meet you Sara,
nice post in the nice site ,
think i'll come more often.

Thank you sara .
ps: mind being my friend ?

Irene said...

Hi!

I love your blog! My name is Lisa, and I work with the website ZooCaro.com. I recently found your site and am very interested in exchanging links.
As you know, reciprocal linking benefits both of us by raising our search rankings and generating more traffic to both of our sites. Would you please post a link to my site as follows:

Title: ZooCaro
URL: http://www.zoocaro.com
Description: Zoocaro.com provides a simple and safe way to shop, promote products, services and items for free. Take advantage of this service today and find what you are looking for or drive more business your way www.Zoocaro.com

Or get an html logo from here: http://www.zoocaro.com/link.php
Once you've posted the link, let me know the URL of the page that it's on, and I will post it on our site.You can reply to me at izoocaro@gmail.com

Thank you very much,
Lisa

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BestMark said...

Barcelona seems like such a great place to have your honeymoon. I would love to visit especially for the shopping and the site seeing. There is just so much history in Europe it's unreal.