One thing that never ceases to amaze me in the fragrance world is the army of sales associates tasked with "moving units." I encounter them whenever I step into a store.
We've all read the complaints, usually posted in forums after members meet snotty sales reps who hear very little and understand even less. Sometimes they're in stores, and sometimes these insane conversations happen on the telephone. There are a slew of reasons why these people wander department store fragrance floors, but people outwardly wonder why they're working in a field they know nothing about. How can someone whose job is selling perfumes be completely ignorant about perfume? Why don't department stores hire people with experience? People who actually know and love fragrance? What's wrong with them?
I'll bypass the lengthy editorializing and cut right to the answer: America's culture. Or, more specifically, America's "meritocracy." You think that department stores don't know what they're doing when they hire morons? You think they're oblivious to their customers' needs? Think again. Upper management, those invisible nobodies who do all the hiring, know exactly what they're doing.
In America, we have something called a "meritocracy." It's the fantasy idea that if a person gets an education, his "merits" in his field will grant him access to an upper middle-class lifestyle, making six figures by age forty. First you have to spend sixty thousand dollars of the government's money on an institution that dispenses the degree of your choosing. Then you have to take a high paying job that will make paying down your debt while living in your own place feasible, which is no easy task. Eventually, the thinking goes, you'll come out ahead, and become one of America's prized elite.
This, of course, is utter bullshit. If it were true, our economy wouldn't be in the toilet. The majority of jobs gained since 2009 would be white collar careers, not minimum-wage crap. The middle class, the largest customer base for degree-awarding institutions, would be growing, not shrinking. America would be on the rise, instead of in decline.
The truth is that the "meritocracy" is a good way to keep most of the population from ever becoming wealthy and truly successful. It's a terrific way to keep people down, so a select few can stay up. Most of the world's biggest successes never earned a degree - they didn't have that sort of time to waste. Think about it: if an education is being "bought" so that someone can "succeed," and it isn't being sought after for personal enlightenment or truly educational reasons, then the maxim "buyer beware" suddenly applies. Instead of gaining ground, an educated person in America loses years of his or her future to paying back incredible debt. The average college degree costs $35K. Most degrees are actually much higher than that, in the realm of $50K - $60K. A not insignificant number of young Americans attend Ivy League schools, or "big name" schools with religious affiliations that can land them $100K+ in the hole.
Great way to start your life.
What about those who can't afford an education? The single mothers who got knocked up at eighteen? The guys who simply lack the temperament for pointless lectures and filthy dorm life? The people who just aren't interested in going that deeply into debt for something so very far from a sure thing? What happens to those poor saps?
They wind up earning minimum wage, or around minimum wage, usually in the restaurant or retail sector. Waiters, busboys, sales clerks, cashiers, drivers. They won't rot away in a gutter, but they'll just barely get by. These are the folks working the fragrance counter at Bloomingdales and Macy's. They're kids off the street. They're women who wanted to bypass beauty school and work in "sales" instead. They make anywhere from $9.50 to $12 an hour. They work 37 hours a week, so the store doesn't have to give them full-time benefits. They work a "flex schedule," never knowing what the week will bring. They earn a 3% commission. They're not unionized.
They cost the stores very little.
This is how American companies want it to be. You see, if they actually required their employees to know something about the sector they're placed in, they'd tread dangerously close to needing people with "specialized skills." People who fall under that umbrella cost more, because they're usually educated. They're not looking to work for minimum wage. They want a salary.
So the stores decide to go the other way. They hire people with little to no knowledge of anything, and throw them on the floor. These people aren't there to know things. They're there to ring up sales. That's it.
And that's who we encounter when we have questions (and when we don't). That's who approaches us with samples and nonsensical comments about how much better some piece of garbage designer scent is than anything we've ever smelled before. These are the people waving coffee beans under our noses, as if that actually does anything. They're stupid; that's what keeps overhead low and profits high. That's Capitalism at its finest.
Of course, the job of selling perfume does require knowledge on the part of the SA, and it would be very good if SAs had an extensive background in fragrance, with intricate understandings of pyramids, families, and even a healthy dose of perfume history. It would be incredibly beneficial for every major department store in the USA to value knowledgable SAs, and hire based on how much they know. It would be helpful if they actually paid their SAs a competent living wage, but that's not how Capitalism works.
A Capitalist society values profit. You can only maximize profit by minimizing overhead and maximizing profit margins. You can only minimize overhead by hiring as few employees as physically possible, and paying them rock bottom wages. And that's only possible (and justifiable) if you can point to these employees and say, "Look, they're unskilled labor. That's why we pay them shit."
So the next time some little turd with a silver name badge and clip-on tie throws you a predatory grin and picks up a smelling strip, don't think of him as the problem. Remember how American society works these days, the miles of horseshit we've piled on ourselves with the "meritocracy" lie and the legion of twenty-somethings permanently damned to lower middle-class life because they're starting out with fifty times more debt than their parents or grandparents ever did. Remember the fact that Macy's can't afford to sell you a bottle of Bleu de Chanel if it can't pay the SA to "move units." Remember the Alamo.