A “Well, duh!” study

Occasionally, while perusing EurekAlert!, I come across studies that I like to call “Well, duh!” studies because they seem to come to conclusions that are mind-numbingly obvious. For example, this one:

If women want the best possible service at a clothing store, they had better be looking fashionable and well-groomed before they hit the mall.
A new study found that well-dressed and groomed women received the friendliest and, in some cases, fastest service from salesclerks.

Researchers secretly observed interactions between customers and salesclerks at three large-sized women’s clothing stores, timing how long clerks took to greet customers, and rating the clerks’ friendliness.

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.

“How well-dressed you are is one indicator of your status, and how much money you have to spend,” said Sharron Lennon, co-author of the study and professor of consumer sciences at Ohio State University.

“Salesclerks believe that a well-dressed person is more likely to buy, and that affects the treatment she receives.”

Lennon conducted the study with Minjeong Kim, an assistant professor at Oregon State University, who did the work while a graduate student at Ohio State.

Their results were published in a recent issue of Clothing and Textiles Research Journal.

Most women (or, for that matter, most men even) could have told you that. Heck, even I, as clueless as I am about shopping, could have told you that. I know that it may be of interest to clothing stores to quantify these effects. It is also true that one of the most important purposes of science is to test our assumptions against the data and see if “common knowledge” really is true or if it’s myth. But surely someone must have looked at this issue before?


  1. #1 outeast
    March 3, 2006

    “Most women (or, for that matter, most men even) could have told you that.”

    Oh, Orac! You should know better than that! Now repeat after me: ‘The plural of “anecdote” is not…’!


  2. #2 Shygetz
    March 3, 2006

    My wife is an active social science researche–you’d be amazed at the stuff you would assume someone has looked at, but that isn’t published in the literature.

  3. #3 Orac
    March 3, 2006



    Even so, my main point was that I couldn’t believe that someone hadn’t looked at this before.

  4. #4 Dave S.
    March 3, 2006

    And I’m sure a lot of this research has been done, but for private companies for internal use only. Obviously, if you’re in business you generally don’t want to be blabbing all your wonderful and expensive marketing research all over. You want to profit from it yourself. And there are some firms that do these sorts of studies, but ya gotta pay to see the results.

  5. #5 TheProbe
    March 3, 2006

    I hate shopping. People come over to you and ask if they can help you. What they really mean is “can I sell you what we have, so you will not go elsewhere”. You immediately know that they are working on commission, since the slightest resistance to their “expert advise” is met with a bigger push to buy their products. If you ask about a brand that they do not carry, they will point out that brands deficiencies. Getting them to tell you that they do not carry the brand is nearly impossible.

    Who do they think is doing the shopping? I recently went looking for a MP3 player. I checked on line, looked in Consumers Reports, etc. and then asked a few teenagers for their expert opinions. I decided on buying one from Creative Labs, a company I have always been comfortable with.

    I then went to Best Buys, Circuit City, P.C. Richards, etc. looking for a particular model. None of them had it, but learning that from each salesperson was like removing amalgams from an evil merucry pushing dentist.

    So, I went home and bought it online.

  6. #6 TheProbe
    March 3, 2006

    My previous post deleted the Andy Rooney Mode On and Off tags.

    HTML is no fun.

  7. #7 Qalmlea
    March 3, 2006

    I have an entirely different complaint about salespeople. When I already know where to find what I want, I run into bunches of them. When I am looking for something new, and have no clue where to find it, there’s nary a salesperson to be found. It must be a conspiracy. ;^)

  8. #8 Jim Lippard
    March 3, 2006

    Surely John Trinkaus has already thoroughly studied and published on this subject.


  9. #9 outeast
    March 3, 2006

    For my sins, I work in a company that does this kind of stuff all the time. And as Dave S says, it’s generally done for companies and is very, very expensive and very, very proprietory.

  10. #10 Dave Munger
    March 3, 2006

    It was a real revelation to me when I moved to New York from Seattle and found this to be true. In casual Seattle, if a salesperson neglects a scruffy person in a t-shirt and jeans, they could well have just lost the business of a Microsoft Millionaire. So in Seattle, everyone gets good service, no matter how they look. In New York, you must dress to the nines if you want to get service anywhere.

  11. #11 andrea
    March 3, 2006

    I could have sworn that John Molloy (the “Dress for Success” guy) had already done something on this …

    Then again, it may be that those who did this studying were quantifying slightly different, or more exhaustive, parameters than had been done before.

    It is kind of a “duh!” result, aside from the necessary cautions about conventional wisdom & anecdotes.


  12. #12 andrea
    March 3, 2006

    PS; my favourite sales clerk is the postal person who delivers my mail-order packages — I hate shopping, and don’t even ASK me about malls …

  13. #13 Sastra
    March 3, 2006

    I agree that it seems like an obvious result, but I could imagine possible reasons the data could have gone the other way, and to our surprise we actually find that store clerks tend to ignore well-dressed people.

    For instance, there might have been a sympathy or aesthetic factor at work (‘this poor woman really needs a new outfit!’) Or clerks could have a sort of working rule of thumb to the effect that richer people are more likely to be exacting, time consuming, and difficult to wait on, so let someone else have the headache.

    Turns out that’s not true, but it wouldn’t have been too terribly counterintuitive, I think.

  14. #14 Renee
    March 3, 2006

    Back in college, I worked in the lingerie department of a store similar to Macy’s. I don’t remember judging female customers based on how they were dressed. What I do remember was that some (not all) elderly customers were the ones who took up a lot of our time, but bought no more than other customers.

    But when we had a lot of male customers (Christmas, Valentine’s day, Mother’s Day), I definitely felt more comfortable waiting on men who dressed decently, and who at least weren’t dressed like they were at the Home Depot. I particularly liked waiting on men in business suits. Plus, it was amazingly easy to get most of the men (no matter how they looked) to part with their money. Someone should do a study on this.

  15. #15 Julie Stahlhut
    March 3, 2006

    I tend to dress up only when absolutely forced to do so (weddings, job interviews, etc.) Consequently, I often go shopping while dressed in my grubbiest jeans and sweats. However, this may be my own way of inadvertently optimizing my own shopping experience; I strongly prefer to be left alone by the sales staff while shopping, unless I specifically ask for help!

  16. #16 JOhn
    March 3, 2006

    It’s not the status that they’re looking at. It’s that if we go to the person who hasn’t bathed in 3 days, our face might melt off. Ask me how I know that 20% of the population of my city doesn’t brush.
    Looking good in your clothes is an easy way to tell (for the most part, it’s definitly, positivly NOT certain)who the normal people are.

  17. #17 Katie
    March 3, 2006

    I remember there was a time when I was wearing this leather mini-skirt and high heels (I was going out later). Oh my, what incredible service I got that day! I am willing to bet that if I wore jeans and a T-shirt, I would not have gotten quite the same treatment. I was a “poor” undergrad at the time. But little did the staff know.

  18. #18 Jeff Hebert
    March 4, 2006

    As a college professor said in our undergrad sociology class, “Sociology is the study of the bloody obvious.”

  19. #19 Dave S.
    March 4, 2006

    Renee says:

    Plus, it was amazingly easy to get most of the men (no matter how they looked) to part with their money. Someone should do a study on this.

    I think 20/20, or maybe Dateline already has done these studies. They’ve shown that attractive well dressed people will invariably find it easier to get help on the street from stangers or help from sales people in stores. And it’s not all about sex either as the people who stopped to help were not all younger members of the opposite sex. Some were younger children, others were elderly people of the same sex. People in general are just drawn to attractive well-dressed people over slovenly unkempt people. That’s a fact. Trust Dateline.

    Katie says:

    I remember there was a time when I was wearing this leather mini-skirt and high heels (I was going out later). Oh my, what incredible service I got that day!

    That wasn’t my experence when I wore that outfit. 🙂

    Seriously, when I’m well groomed and wearing my suit, I feel confident and that must exude outwards as I notice a definite positive uptick in how others respond to me.

  20. #20 Dean
    March 4, 2006

    Actually there is a company that does indepth studies on buying behaviour. The head of the company has wrote a couple of books (Paco Underhill I think). Anyway the first one is called “Why We Buy”.

  21. #21 Renee
    March 5, 2006

    After reading the original article, I have some further thoughts about the study. They weren’t studying female customers in general, but focusing on female customers who shop at stores that carry clothes for larger-sized women – in other words, women who are considered overweight by the fashion industry, to the point that there have to be separate stores for them.

    This already puts this class of customers at a disadvantage – people have negative views of the attractiveness of overweight persons, particularly if they are female. However, an overweight woman can counter some of this negative perception if she dresses in quality clothing, has a nice hairstyle, wears good jewelry, shoes, makeup, etc. Basically, I think the study only gives insight into how overweight women fare when they are shopping, and I don’t think it should be generalized to all women.

    I dress casually when I shop for clothes. I’ve never had problems at Nordstroms, which offers good customer service. I’ve never had problems at a department store, basically because they don’t have enough salespersons, so nobody gets any help, no matter how they are dressed. The only place I’ve had problems are very high end stores like Neiman Marcus.

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