You Might Link Bargains With How You Treat Workers

Every shopper loves to save, which makes customers treat customer service reps with even more deference and equanimity. Actually — no, what researchers have found is that deep discounts make us less likely to think of retail workers as fully human. Sounds harsh, but according to a new study, it's the truth.

Business professors at Canadian and Dutch universities just published evidence that when shoppers enter a "price-conscious mentality," they're far less likely to consider that employees experience feelings and emotions. "When shoppers focus only on paying the lowest price, they become less attuned to understanding the human needs of others, or even recognizing them," said co-author Johannes Boegershausen in a press release.

A lot of it comes down to signaling from brands. For the study, participants rated photographs of flight attendants from three different airlines: the discount liner Ryanair, the more expensive Lufthansa, and one with a neutral, generic uniform. The Ryanair flight attendant got the lowest marks, despite no actual interactions. The study also found that price-conscious consumers were nearly 20 percent more likely to give ratings that would result in disciplinary actions for the employee.

Anyone who's worked retail or customer service in any capacity may be nodding along to this. For the rest of us, especially as bargain services and shops explode throughout the economy, it's always a good time to remember to take a breath and be excellent to each other — no matter how big the cuts are at checkout.