From Wall Street Journal: http://online.wsj.com/public/article/SB119387210243478281.html?mod=blog Taking an Emotional Audit of Rodeo Drive We Test Shopper Reception At Boutiques on Fabled Strip; 'Contempt' at Yves St. Laurent November 1, 2007; Page D1 The mission, said Dan Hill, a specialist in emotion, was to shop on Beverly Hills' Rodeo Drive for certain things one tends to find in a luxury shopping district: "delight, shame, disappointment" and "self-indulgence." I went along -- and found surprising delight at the jeweler Chopard, which stocks lollipops and coloring books to occupy the kids while parents gawk at million-dollar diamond pendants. We encountered shame at Van Cleef & Arpels, where the saleswoman's frown and suspicious "Can I help you?" sent us scuttling out the door. Putting customers at ease is becoming much more important for the famously snooty luxury-goods sector as more high-end retailers broaden their offerings (think Prada legwarmers and Dior sunglasses) in order to reach a wider audience. As they democratize, many luxury companies are finding there's a fine line between positioning themselves as lofty -- to signal just the right amount of exclusivity -- and being so haughty they alienate their customers. Getting the balance right is all the more urgent this holiday season. Retailers are looking to the luxury category to help carry the season even as early signs point to a spending slowdown. In October, affluent U.S. consumers' spending on luxury items fell to its lowest level since 2004, according to an index by Unity Marketing, a Stevens, Pa., firm that tracks luxury purchases. Recently, Rodeo Drive has been struggling with its own image. As Marc Jacobs, Diane von Furstenberg and other stores open on hipper Melrose Avenue, Rodeo Drive retailers have been discussing ways to appear friendlier. "Rodeo sends messages that are not welcoming," says Wes Carroll, the regional director of Chopard. Louis Vuitton has gone so far as to adorn its Rodeo entrance with a cartoonish, smiling apple figure. I decided to gauge just how inviting Rodeo Drive's stores are with the help of Mr. Hill, who is president of Sensory Logic, a company based in Minneapolis that helps businesses from Target to Toyota connect emotionally with patrons. Mr. Hill employs "facial coding," a technique of reading and using facial expressions to elicit the most profitable emotional response in a customer. The premise is that feelings occur more quickly than thoughts and play a more effective role in purchasing decisions, so businesses need to appeal to our emotions. This is territory plumbed eons ago by Madison Avenue's ad men, but it's been harder to put into practice in many retail stores. If it's the emotional rather than the rational part of our brains that makes many of our buying decisions, that's particularly true when it comes to luxury. (Certainly, it was my emotional brain that bought a St. John Knits suit recently, which my rational brain is now trying to justify.) Yet just training sales clerks to say, "May I help you?" may not be terribly effective, given Mr. Hill's argument that only 7% of communication relies on verbal exchange. The rest is store décor, the facial expressions of sales associates, and things our eyes and ears pick up subliminally. Thus, on Rodeo Drive, Chicago's Michigan Avenue or London's Bond Street, one of the key factors deciding whether you walk out with a new Prada handbag may be the muscles at the corner of a sales clerk's mouth. The Van Cleef saleswoman sent us out the door with little more than her scowl. She probably did some decoding of her own, reading accurately that we weren't her day's big spenders. We had dressed like professionals with an hour or so to shop, with Mr. Hill tie-less in a dark business suit and me pairing a long, tailored Emanuel Ungaro vest with dressy black wool pants. Yet it's risky to make assumptions based on looks in Los Angeles, where that guy in ratty jeans may be Steven Spielberg. Emmanuel Perrin, president and chief executive of Van Cleef's North American operations, later told me that the saleswoman's reaction was "exactly what we do not want to achieve." Van Cleef's second rule of customer service, Mr. Perrin said, is: "Do not profile anyone who is walking in the store." His first rule? "A customer should receive a warm and authentic welcome," he said. Dan Hill, president of a firm that helps businesses connect with patrons, walks across Rodeo Drive. We hadn't made it inside Yves Saint Laurent before Mr. Hill stopped, struck by the mannequins in the windows. "This is contemptuous," he announced, pointing to the down-stretched arms with hands flexed as though to ward off intruders. Contemptuousness in a store display actually can be a good thing in a high-end shopping district, Mr. Hill explained, "because it suggests superiority. But if [contempt] is directed toward me by the clerk, then it's devastating," he continued, pressing open the glass doors. As we gawked, a saleswoman sailed past, one corner of her mouth slightly turned up. Two upturned mouth corners make a smile, of course, but a single upturned corner amounts to the way the homecoming queen regards the president of the math club, according to Mr. Hill, who whispered, "She just gave us a contempt expression." An Yves Saint Laurent spokeswoman declined to comment. Mr. Hill became fixated by Rodeo Drive stores' security guards, who function as the equivalent of Wal-Mart greeters, opening the door for customers. Good ones seem to suggest you've just swept past the velvet rope. At Harry Winston, a guard commended us for noticing a light-filled sculpture in the foyer. "Most people walk right past it," he said. But the salespeople failed to catch his hand-off. When no one invited us to see diamonds, I was left admiring the wood paneling with my hands behind my back, feeling very look-but-don't-touch. A Harry Winston spokeswoman later apologized for our experience, saying that sales associates attempt to be welcoming without being overbearing. We slunk next door to Dolce & Gabanna, where we were transfixed by a life-size video of the design duo's fall-season runway show. Upstairs, we wandered into the VIP room, where the doors are covered in mink and so are the chairs. Mr. Hill liked this a lot. "Downstairs, it's 'meet the goddesses' and upstairs, you are the goddess," he said. Chopard was overtly friendly. We were ushered to a black-granite espresso bar where we saw the cabinet with the lollipops, coloring books (savvy -- illustrated with Chopard jewelry) and even dog biscuits. Mr. Hill pronounced the coffee brilliant, because the scent reaches the olfactory origin of the brain where memories are created. It was Coach, though, that stole the show for Mr. Hill. "The code word is 'accessible,' " he announced as he crossed Coach's threshold into a bright, cheery store. He pronounced the pleasant sales staff "a breath of fresh air," extending his approval to "even the body types" -- not as intimidatingly model-thin as the salespeople at other stores. I must confess that Coach reached my emotional brain as my rational brain grappled for control. Within minutes, a saleswoman named Lucienne had me in a pair of $485 high-heeled Maxene boots. When I didn't buy the boots, Lucienne deftly placed her card in my hand. Mr. Hill explained what had happened: "She actually smiled at you the whole time. At the other stores, they smiled once because they knew they had to."