Having a strong brand identity is a goal for any savvy business; that's Marketing 101. At Brandy Melville, one of those, customers know they'll get made-for-Instagram California-girl separates sold by big-on-Instagram California-girl sales associates, and it doesn't take a super-shopper to know what an American Apparel employee looks like. But, brands don't always get there organically. Practices now referred to as "look policies" treat floor staff as spokesmodels and brand ambassadors, and have used discriminatory screening processes to get there.
A new study published in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science found that when a sales staff has a homogeneous appearance, customers tend to get turned off, make few purchases, and have an all-around more negative experience. Clearly, these "aesthetic labor practices" could be bad for business. (Whether or not they're ethical is a whole different story.) It all has to do with empathy. If you don't happen to have mermaid-length hair and a one-size-fits-all body or a makeup-free, "all-American" look, you have a harder time perceiving that a store's staff is there to help you.
On the flip side, if a store's workers vary in terms of their body shape, ethnic diversity, and other physical attributes, their wearing a cohesive outfit and grooming style actually reinforces customer empathy. That's pretty logical: The staff itself proves that the clothing is accessible to a diverse set of people, rather than seemingly made for a select few.
But, do positive and negative feelings have anything to do with sales? After all, we can think of many a time when we've bought something after feeling intimidated and insecure while shopping. This study doesn't go into the numbers, but one of its co-authors, Kate Pounders, states in the press release that if a brand's practices are seen as unethical, its business could suffer. The assistant professor of advertising at The University of Texas at Austin says, "We've seen companies like Abercrombie & Fitch come under intense scrutiny and criticism for some of their policies, and I believe it has had a negative effect on their brand image and played a role in declining sales." If inclusivity isn't reason enough to change these hiring practices, perhaps the bottom line will inspire such companies to play nice.