COVID-19 is about to decline, but buying a Louis Vuitton bag, a Chanel suit or a pair of Gucci loafers increasingly means standing in line outside a store – and luxury brands have been clear about why.
Most elite labels relied on “contract shopping” during the height of the pandemic, citing the need for social distancing. But as the threat from the virus diminishes, some including Cartier and Harry Winston continue to adopt the new policy.
Nor have they managed to convince both shoppers and experts of their reasoning – if they bother to explain themselves at all. Major brands, including Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Cartier, did not respond to calls and emails from The Post about their continued use of bars in front of store entrances, where queuing customers are asked by “greetings”[ads1]; about potential purchases before entering .
“We recommend booking an appointment before your boutique visit, as walk-ins can experience longer waiting times,” recommends Cartier’s website, without elaborating.
According to experts, customers who are restless can largely thank a relentless epidemic of smash-and-grab robbery instead of social distancing for increased popular control across the country, including in New York, Chicago, Miami, San Francisco and Seattle . Theft got so bad last year that Beverly Hills hired two private security companies to patrol Rodeo Drive.
Meanwhile, at the Westchester Mall in White Plains, NY, where robbers ransacked a Louis Vuitton store in February, the store’s doors were closed, with poles inviting shoppers to line up outside.
A pair of greeters with headphones – flanked by a pair of powerful security guards from the mall – asked customers if they were there to pick up an order or to shop. Shoppers were only let in when a colleague was ready to follow them in.
“They do not want customers to look around the store without a store employee,” a sales employee told The Post.
Luxury brands have managed to hide the embarrassment of the situation in part because making it difficult to enter their stores “creates an aura of exclusivity,” says Steve Dennis, a Dallas retail consultant.
“Most of these stores are not crowded anyway,” and the queues are getting longer in states like Texas, “which did not take COVID seriously,” said Dennis, author of “Remarkable Retail: How to Win & Keep Customers in” The Age of Disruption. “
“The new nightclub, in its own weird way, comes into a Dolce & Gabbana store on a Saturday,” adds luxury consultant Melanie Holland.
Last week, a Chanel leader provoked talk when he revealed in an interview that the company plans to open “private” stores in Asia next year for top customers. Chanel is hiring 3,500 new employees for the initiative, which experts say can be adopted in the United States.
“Our biggest concern is to protect our customers and especially our existing customers,” Chanel CFO Philippe Blondiaux told Business of Fashion. “We will invest in highly protected stores to serve customers in a very exclusive way.”
In response, fashion blog Highsnobiety asked the question “What, really, do Blondiaux and Chanel want to ‘protect’ their customers from?”
Holland speculated that Chanel may be looking to prevent its wealthy customers from becoming targets for thieves after they leave stores. But large users also do not usually enter from the street, she adds.
“People who want to spend $ 25,000 for a little dress will not stand in line,” Holland said. “These customers are probably making an appointment with their personal shopper – they know the line is not meant for them.”
As previously reported by The Post, Madison Avenue stores on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, including the Chanel, Prada and Carolina Herrera lights, dim the doors, lock the doors and open by appointment only in an attempt to deter a wave of naughty shoplifters during the day who have terrorized the glittering thoroughfare this year.
In February, a team of seven thieves strolled out of The Real Real in Madison on 71st Street with handbags and jewelry worth nearly $ 500,000.
In the wake of such robberies, there is simply a “new lack of trust” on the part of dealers “about who walks through their doors,” said Susan Scafidi, founder and director of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham Law School.
In practice, most luxury brands assign a salesperson to each customer or group. The days of going into an exclusive store and “surfing” without an employee shadowing are mostly over, said one salesman.
Meanwhile, employees at exclusive stores including Chanel, Gucci and Burberry are armed with talking points for curious customers, some of which sound plausible.
“We’re still dealing with delivery delays from Paris, and you do not want everyone to come in and notice that the store does not have the latest styles,” said a sales assistant at a store run by a major luxury brand to The Post, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“You will be able to tell them one-on-one that the pieces are on their way,” the colleague added.