Stores to Workers: Wear What You Sell

Discussion
Jan 26, 2012

This is one of those stories that just won’t go away.

Way back in 2002, Sfgate.com reported on California stores routinely insisting that staff "buy and wear at work the brands they sell" in what industry experts and the California Labor Commission described as "a practice that violates state law," reflecting industrywide concerns. At the time, one employment attorney insisted "the issue is black and white" as statutes protect people from being forced to buy uniforms.

A full seven years later, The Associated Press covered a lawsuit won by employees protesting about being forced to buy and wear their employers’ ranges. California state claimed Abercrombie & Fitch’s "Appearance/Look Policy" required staff to buy the company’s clothes.

Denying wrongdoing, Abercrombie insisted discounts were offered to encourage (not require) staff to wear their clothes. Following the lawsuit, they agreed "not to force workers to buy its clothes" and to reimburse former employees for purchases made during the period cited.

Flash forward to 2012 and Australia’s Herald Sun insists retailers pressuring staff to wear new season items without fully reimbursing them could be breaking the law. Several stores were accused by employees of requiring them to spend more than their discounts and allowances covered.

Keywords are "latest season trends" and "full reimbursement" with employees and employers disputing requirements and costs. The Fair Work Act specifies that "required clothing" should be paid for by employers.

Australia’s Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten, reportedly told news.com.au that "federal workplace authorities would now raise the issue with retailers and unions to clarify workers’ rights. … The Fair Work Act provides that a business can’t unreasonably direct the employee on how to spend their wages." A Facebook page was set up to hold him to it. News.com.au says it was "inundated" with employees’ experiences following its story while many managers received policy reminders to reduce discrepancies between how they are stated and how they’re practiced.

In the U.S., associates at stores with suggested dressing appear to receive a generous discount — typically 50 percent off — on a limited amount of items per month. After the limit is reached, the regular employee discount for many comes to around 30 percent.

Discussion Questions: When should and shouldn’t clothing stores compensate store staff for required or suggested wardrobes? Is a discount enough? Are retailers’ expectations for staff to dress in a certain way unrealistic?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

Join the Discussion!

14 Comments on "Stores to Workers: Wear What You Sell"


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Tony Orlando
Guest
10 years 4 months ago

If any store “requires” the employee to wear a uniform, than the cost must be paid by the employer, PERIOD! My Shirts and smocks are considered loaners, and are cleaned and returned to me when someone quits, which is fair, and they appreciate the fact that they do not have to pay for them. If you want a standard for your workers, then pay for them.

Dan Berthiaume
Guest
Dan Berthiaume
10 years 4 months ago

If a store does not want to reimburse employees for purchasing their clothes, they should provide “uniforms” of that clothing which the employees change into and out of before and after shift. Considering how little the average store associate earns, it’s only fair. I might make an exception for very high-end stores where the associates earn salaries comparable to jobs where there is a “business” dress code.

Max Goldberg
Guest
10 years 4 months ago

If clothing stores are going to require employees to wear what is being sold in the store, they should reimburse employees for their clothing. Even with a generous discount, how can someone making $9-15 per hour afford high-end clothing? How can a retailer tell an employee where to spend her money?

Ryan Mathews
Guest
10 years 4 months ago
First of all, Australia is not the United States so I’m not sure I see the value of comparing statutes. Theirs is a far more “protective” society in which wages tend to be lower, taxes tend to be higher and many core services, i.e., healthcare and things like college tuition are provided at no direct cost. So … what works, or doesn’t work Down Under may or may not be an appropriate model. That said, most Nordstrom customers might be a tad put off if they were approached by a retail sales person dressed like they worked at Hot Topic — and vice versa. In other words it seems fair, as a stated pre-condition to employment, to stipulate some dress/appearance guidelines. But where should they start and stop? My experience tells me many “fashion” clerks aren’t guaranteed enough hours on a regular enough basis to be able to afford some of the items they sell, even at a significant discount. For kids who are living at home and being partially or fully supported by Mom,… Read more »
Roy White
Guest
Roy White
10 years 4 months ago

It does seem fairly straightforward. It makes sense for an apparel retailer to have their salespeople wear their own brand, but the clothes then become a piece of equipment and should be funded by the retailer, fully, not just sold with discounts.

David Slavick
Guest
David Slavick
10 years 4 months ago

This is an easy one. You have to wear “something” to work so what is the question? Now, if you can’t afford to buy the clothes at the store you work for to the extent that your weekly wardrobe is “fresh,” that is an issue. But, I’ve worked for chains that give generous discounts and of course I was more than willing to wear the store brand proudly every business day. If an associate doesn’t want to wear the apparel of choice at their place of employment, why work there?

For some employees, it is a challenge if the apparel sizes are not available for plus size employees, so exceptions are always accommodated. To dress in the “brand” helps the employee on the floor of the store — it is a live fashion statement and helps to support the sales experience. This is legal intervention running head first into common sense.

Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
Guest
10 years 4 months ago

How many clothes remain unsold at the end of the season? How many clothes go on to become deep discounts? If employees were allowed to purchase clothes at 75% off at the beginning of the season or if they were given a few pieces of clothing to wear, then the brands could be showcased and it becomes a form of promotion. Requiring low-paid employees to pay for items that eventually go on sale for a price lower than their employee discount is not a good strategy. Either pay associates so they can afford the clothing or give it to them free (and make it an expense item for promotion) or have them pay a really low percent (like 10%).

Lee Peterson
Guest
10 years 4 months ago

As most of us know, the guiding principle of retail is Murphy’s Law — so, imagine if you DIDN’T have your staff wear your product. Yeah, they would wear the competition’s and be standing there, in your store, telling your customers where they got it. Unimaginable actually.

So, best practice is to give them (no cost) their first 3 outfits so they can at least come to work right away as a PDA (perfectly dressed associate). From that point on they should get clothing at cost, which is SUPER generous considering they’re probably fans to begin with and will buy a lot of merchandise in the long run.

Like much of retail, it’s not rocket science — just get the associate started and give them enough momentum to keep it rolling.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
10 years 4 months ago

We spent $150 each getting our kids ready to work at Starbucks. This issue sounds fairly widespread….

Gene Detroyer
Guest
10 years 4 months ago

Requiring an associate to wear the store’s clothes is no different than advertising a fashion in a catalog, magazine, on TV, or on a window banner. This is advertising! Since when do employees pay for advertising the company’s products?

Sometimes I am boggled by the nearsighted mentality of retailers.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
10 years 4 months ago

Having employees believe in the products they sell is the first step to building an effective sales team. My son sells cellular phones and he is given that provider’s service for free. I sold Pontiacs when I was 19 and I got a free demonstrator car. Why should apparel be any different?

The worst thing for a blue jeans store to have is an employee wearing the competitor’s jeans while on the sales floor. For the relative cost of providing a couple outfits for each employee (compared to the discounts given to customers for leftover product) at no cost to the employee, the retailer would build a tangible culture of loyalty and support of the team that would permeate to the shopper.

Bottom line, do it! The cost would be a drop in the bucket.

Christine Magtoto
Guest
Christine Magtoto
10 years 4 months ago

If it’s required, then 100% compensation to a monthly allowance. Anything over the allowance is the employee’s responsibility. Retailer’s expectations for staff to dress in a certain way is completely realistic.

Michael Baker
Guest
Michael Baker
10 years 3 months ago

I’m Australian and I think American retail employees have a better case for full reimbursement than we do. Ryan, for the record, some of the statements you made about Australia in this thread are factually without basis and need to be corrected. Specifically, Australian retail employee wages are much higher than in the US, Australian taxes are not necessarily higher than in the US, and both education and health are both subject to direct cost to the beneficiary.

Mike B
Guest
Mike B
10 years 3 months ago

Given what little money many of these retailers pay their staff and the low number of hours they give them each week, combined with the very high prices of their clothing, I don’t think this is really reasonable to force without giving the stuff away or selling it at cost (which would be practically like giving it away since the mark ups are so high).

I agree employees SHOULD wear what they sell, but in today’s retail environment of high part time staff I don’t think it is all that practical to the employee.

They can furnish the uniform free if they REALLY want the employee to wear their stuff.

wpDiscuz

Take Our Instant Poll

To what degree should clothing store employees be reimbursed for the wardrobe they’re required or suggested to wear?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...