COVID-19 is waning, but shopping for a Louis Vuitton bag, a Chanel suit or a pair of Gucci loafers increasingly means waiting in line at a boutique – and luxury brands have been strikingly silent about why.
Most elite labels leaned toward “date shopping” during the peak of the pandemic, citing the need for social distancing. But as the virus threat recedes, some, including Cartier and Harry Winston, are continuing to enforce the new policy.
Nor have they managed to convince buyers and experts alike of their argument—if they even bother to explain themselves. Big brands like Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Cartier didn’t respond to calls and emails from The Post about their constant use of store entrance supports, where queued shoppers are questioned about potential purchases by “greeters” before entering.
“We recommend making an appointment before you visit the boutique, as walk-in customers can have longer waiting times,” advises Cartier’s website without elaborating.
Locked-down customers owe much to a relentless epidemic of robberies instead of social distancing nationwide, including in New York, Chicago, Miami, San Francisco and Seattle, experts say. The theft got so bad last year that Beverly Hills hired two private security firms to patrol Rodeo Drive.
Meanwhile, at the Westchester Mall in White Plains, NY, where robbers raided a Louis Vuitton store in February, the boutique’s doors were closed and poles invited shoppers to queue outside.
Two headset-wearing greeters — flanked by two burly mall security guards — asked customers if they were there to pick up an order or shop. Shoppers were not allowed in until a member of staff was willing to escort them inside.
“You don’t want customers looking around the store without a staff member,” a sales rep told The Post.
Luxury brands have managed to partially disguise the awkwardness of the situation because making their stores difficult to enter “creates an aura of exclusivity,” says Steve Dennis, a Dallas-based retail consultant.
“Most of these stores aren’t crowded anyway,” and lines are getting longer in states like Texas “that haven’t taken COVID very seriously,” said Dennis, author of “Remarkable Retail: How to Win & Keep Customers in.” the age of disruption.”
“The new nightclub, in its own odd way, comes into a Dolce & Gabbana store on a Saturday,” adds luxury retail consultant Melanie Holland.
Last week, a Chanel executive provoked gossip when he revealed in an interview that the company plans to open “private” boutiques in Asia for top clients next year. Chanel is hiring 3,500 new employees for the initiative, which experts say could be adopted in the US.
“Our number one concern is to protect our customers and especially our existing customers,” Philippe Blondiaux, Chanel’s chief financial officer, told Business of Fashion. “We will invest in very sheltered boutiques to serve customers in a very exclusive way.”
In response fashion blog Highsnobiety asked, “What exactly are Blondiaux and Chanel trying to ‘protect’ their customers from?”
Holland speculated that Chanel might be trying to keep its wealthy customers from becoming targets for thieves after they leave the stores. But affluent customers don’t usually walk in off the street either, she adds.
“People who want to spend $25,000 on a little dress don’t want to stand in line,” Holland said. “These customers are likely to make an appointment with their personal shopper — they know this line isn’t for them.”
As previously reported by The Post, boutiques on Madison Avenue on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, including Chanel, Prada and Carolina Herrera, are dimming their lights, locking their doors and only opening by appointment to deter a wave of brazen shoplifters during the day terrorized the glittering thoroughfare this year.
In February, a team of seven thieves with nearly $500,000 worth of purses and jewelry stalked out of The Real Real in Madison on 71st Street.
After such raids, there’s just a “new lack of confidence” on the part of retailers “about who’s walking 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 sales representative to each customer or group. Gone are the days of going into an exclusive boutique and “poking around” without a staff member following you, a sales rep said.
Meanwhile, employees at upscale boutiques like 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 don’t want everyone walking in and realizing the store doesn’t have the latest styles,” a clerk at a boutique run by a major luxury label told The Post , speaks on condition of anonymity.
“You want to be able to personally let them know the pieces are on their way,” the employee added.