For the as yet uninitiated, Saks Fifth Avenue is a 151-year-old luxury department store owned by the oldest commercial corporation in North America, the Hudson's Bay Company.
Its headquarter store is located between 49th and 50th streets on Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan, NYC. The company’s multiple branches are scattered worldwide with 65 branches in total and offer the finest quality men's and women's fashion as well as extraordinary customer service experience. Saks Fifth Avenue has long been synonymous with fashionable, gracious living. Saks, by the way, is the surname of its founder – an American businessman Andrew Saks, whose son Horace Saks took charge of the company after his passing.
It goes without saying that this store is pretty pricey, to say the least, and you’re often expected to be dressed up if you decide to go shopping there or just look and admire the displayed products.
That being said, working in a “dream store” doesn’t always feel like a dream that has come true. Their hardworking employees could give their two cents on the harsh everyday realities of their glamorous workplace. Simply put, all that glitters is not gold.
Below is some insider information disclosed by Saks Fifth Avenue employees themselves on what it’s like to work there.
15 Employees Can't Say No To The Store's Very Lenient Return Policy
One of the darkest and stinkiest secrets Saks Fifth Avenue employees have ever disclosed about the store is that the store doesn’t have a problem with reselling an already worn item. Yes, even such a high-end luxury retailer as Saks does that.
According to one employee’s account on Trendchaser.com, Saks Fifth Avenue has a very lenient return policy.
In other words, employees must accept nearly all returned items even if they know deep down that they have been used before.
Employees are told by management to put the returned items back out on the floor and from there, their destiny will be decided. If a store associate smells something like perfume on the item, then the next stop is typically the alteration department where the item will be steamed and hopefully, the smell will vanish for good.
The questioned employee admitted she’s disgusted by having to put the items back out when she knows they have been used, but there’s absolutely nothing she can do about it. So employees end up acting against their better judgment, and customers are literally sharing the same items. Anyway, it’s an interesting piece of information to keep in mind anytime you decide to amble through the aisles of Saks Fifth Avenue.
14 No Bare Shoulders, No Miniskirts, No Shorts And No Flip-Flops
As it happens, practically every retail store has a dress code, even though it might look like its workers are groomed just like ordinary people. Every retail business has an image to uphold and that image must be translated into what customers can see in store windows, on racks and also behind counters.
For Saks Fifth Avenue employees, looking “appropriate” is key. TheCut magazine explains that “appropriate” means no denim unless you’re working the denim floor (and then it has to be a style that’s for sale), no bare shoulders, no miniskirts, no shorts and no flip-flops.
The former and current employees unequivocally expressed on job portal Indeed that they’re required to be dressed in a black, business casual attire. Men should wear a jacket with a tie or a sweater with a tie and women can wear any business apparel but no leggings, tank tops or flip-flops.One employee stated that you have to wear a leather jacket in October just because it’s fall. The management doesn’t care if you’re sweating underneath.
Pretty strict rules, you think?
Well, not as strict as American Apparel’s grooming guidelines.
According to TheCut reporter, the American Apparel is aiming for au naturel-looking staff, that is, its staff can’t wear eyeliner, eyeshadow, blush, glitter, liquid foundation, shiny lip gloss, overplucked eyebrows, dyed hair, greasy hair, bangs, gauges, Uggs, Vans, Chucks, moccasins, dirty Keds and some employees are told to fit a certain body-type.
Now that’s strict, right?
13 Unfortunately, Not All Employees Are Treated Equally
As sad as it sounds, Saks Fifth Avenue has a reputation for being a non-inclusive workspace.
We can start with the transgender community. Leyth Jamal, a transgender person and former employee of Saks Fifth Avenue, filed a lawsuit against Saks, claiming that the store discriminated and subjected her to a hostile work environment based on her gender identity.
According to Trendchaser.com, Saks Fifth Avenue initially chose to take the defense, saying that transgender people are not covered under the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and that they were not legally bound by the very non-discrimination policies they created because “employee handbooks are not contracts as a matter of law.”
After facing a severe backlash from many authorities, including the Human Rights Campaign, Saks managed to settle discrimination suit with Leyth and all’s well that ends well.
Another group of Saks employees that suffered discrimination was people with certain disabilities.
To be more accurate, a former Saks makeup artist named Marlene Babin claimed that Saks fired her from their New Orleans store because of her disability - ulcerative colitis. Due to her condition, she was forced to undergo five major surgeries and inevitably missed some work as a result.
Saks gave her an ultimatum – she had to return by a certain time or else she would be fired because she had allegedly used all of her available leave days. Needless to say, she didn't choose to get ulcerative colitis in the first place.
12 Commissions, Commissions, Commissions...
"In today’s society, working for Saks Fifth Avenue could be another term for [hard labor]."
These are the words of a former employee –sales associate- who most likely didn’t have the time of his/her life while working at the luxurious store. She/he literally poured her/his heart out on Glassdoor, pointing that the infamous draw versus commission pay structure is to blame. The only way for the sales associate to earn a higher salary is to meet or exceed specific sales goals in order to earn a higher amount than the draw rate.
The employee in question said it’s impossible to hit your weekly target unless you already have a stable clientele and most of the customers shop online instead of in store anyway.
The former employee goes on to say that if you don’t reach sales goals that management sets for you, you actually have to pay them back out of your paycheck, which means you end up “working for free”.
On top of all of this, when a customer returns something, you lose your commission. Michelle describes on Trendchaser.com one encounter where she was forced to return a pair of Gucci sunglasses setting her back $550. Another employee confirms that “being on 100% commission is a joke.”
11 Employee Discounts Are Pretty Good Though
Quite a few former employees claimed on Glassdoor that the best part about working at Saks Fifth Avenue is the discount which is a whopping 40 percent and sometimes it doubles or triples based on the storewide discounts.
However, employees who misuse this benefit are asking for trouble, as there have been some reported cases of employees turned raging shopaholics. Charles, who shared his past Saks adventures for Trendchaser.com, remembers how he would purchase new outfits every weekend and for him, accessing high-end luxury goods at discounted prices became a full-blown addiction.
Making discounted purchases would give him a literal high.
Poor boy had too much of a good thing.
Perhaps this is the reason why the minimum hiring age applicants must meet in order to apply for a position at Saks is 18 years old.
On Topjobapplications.com you can find that tolling away at Saks comes with an array of other benefits.
The company supports its employees by offering medical and prescription drug coverage, dental coverage, vision coverage, flexible spending accounts, wellness programs, life insurance, disability, long-term care insurance and retirement benefits. You can also receive help with leave of absence, jury duty, bereavement leave and holidays.
Sounds like a fair deal, don’t you think?
10 Favoritism Prevails
Former and current Saks employees are unequivocally hollering on Glassdoor that favoritism is quite apparent at Saks Fifth Avenue.
Well, the employees seem to complain about management a lot, and you can read lines like “stop corporate bullying your workers and putting down associates for the smallest things”, “begin treating the employees you have left, with respect before you lose us all” or “start practicing what Saks says they stand for, which is balancing work and family/home life”.
Sounds like working for Saks isn’t a walk in the park, right?
Another employee complains that there are no promotions within the company unless you start as a manager, and their recent new management has created a hostile environment by showing favoritism to certain staff members.
The next employee claims that rules are different for you if you don’t speak Mandarin, then you should expect to be treated like you're just a number. He/she then goes on with an advice for the management to be fair and treat all employees equally and appreciate those employees who are reliable.
Funnily enough, sometimes it feels like the only people that go to Glassdoor are the ones who have loads of stuff to complain about and positive reviews are scarce.
But hey, which workplace is absolutely perfect?
9 There's A Highly Competitive Work Culture
If you want to work for Saks as a sales associate, you better be of competitive nature.
Former employees on Trendchaser.com attest to the fact that the commission structure makes the environment extremely competitive, and you may even experience borderline back-stabbing. Lindsay, for example, exposes the harsh reality of trying to eke out a living at Saks by saying that successful sales at Saks typically come from stable clientele; customers who visit the store on a regular basis and thus have their favorite salespeople they like to visit.
Other than that, there are not many new clients or walk-ins to actually generate good money for salespeople.
Lindsay adds that she got little to no support from HR or the management to help her along the way.
She said, “The floor is the worst I have ever seen in fifteen years of work in retail, it’s really a dog eat dog job.”
Current and former employees on Glassdoor concur that stealing each other's customer is the norm: "Associates are allowed to run roughshod over each other since it is a draw vs commission structure"
Other departments are equally demanding. As a store operator, for instance, you are graded on your calls; they take into account grammar, pace, and pronunciation.
8 In Order To Work Here, You Need Previous Relevant Experience
The good news for any eager job-seeker is that there’s never a shortage of work at Saks Fifth Avenue and the company is constantly hiring new workers for staffing so many stores. According to Topjobapplications.com, sales service and customer service are considered the two most imperative activities in the store. Albeit being entry-level positions, previous retail experience often proves helpful, so be sure to have some relevant experience before applying.
It also goes without mentioning that sales associates should be total stylists and capable to wardrobe customers from head to toe. Possessing a strong idea for fashion is a matter of course. The type of questions you could expect to be asked when interviewing for a position at Saks are as follows:
- How would you make use of the relevant experience possessed by you while countering any irate customer?
- What would be your line of action in case a customer wants discount against a particular product?
- Why did you opt for this department store even as there are so many choices around?
Another bunch of current and former staff members revealed on Glassdoor that on the day of their interview, they had to tackle all sorts of behavioral questions, questions about relevant experience and, of course, if they had ever visited a Saks store before.
7 The Company Does Not Photograph Its Employees Or Job Applicants
As you might have guessed before, all the pictures showing Saks employees in this article were taken mostly by Saks customers, not by its employers. The same “no photo” rule applies to people applying for Saks vacancies.
TheCut magazine reporter confirmed that Saks Fifth Avenue does not indeed photograph its employees or job applicants. This is actually quite a laudable quality for a department store to possess, as not every retailer adheres to this rule.
American Apparel, for example, is known for submitting full-body photographs of potential new employees to corporate. You know, they’re searching for that au naturel look.
Penny Morey, a seasoned human resources executive and consultant, discussed the legality of taking pictures of job applicants in Entrepreneur magazine a few years back and concluded that there should be a better system of interviewing and taking notes upon which to base hiring decisions versus taking pictures of applicants.
Employers should be using an application form that gathers legally allowed data on each candidate.
Instead of photographing job applicants, an employer should have a checklist of the job qualifications (skills, character traits, abilities, knowledge, experience, etc.) for the job and a rating system. Then they should be able to come up with an instant total rating upon which they should be able to make the best-informed hiring decision.
6 Makeup Has To Be Immaculately Perfect
To create an accurate impression of how suave and gorgeous Saks sales associates look is to dig a little into customer testimonials.
One visitor of a Naples store in Florida left a very positive review on Yelp and compared Saks’ perfume sellers to living mannequins. She details how she sailed into Cosmetics-Land and was instantly greeted by a sales associate or "the Lieutenant Colonel of Saks' army of fashionable ladies dressed in black, whose makeup is so perfect, you have to look away in a [humbling] gesture of respect". The Lancome sales associate looked so stunning that the customer concluded that she must have been from the French Foreign Legion of elegant fake lashes.
It just makes you want to go and see for yourself, no?
One former Saks beauty lady opened up to Newsweek magazine about the six secret tactics of beauty counter make-up artists. Dressed in the beauty department uniform in head to toe black, make-up ladies are taught the following commandments:
They must: 1) invoke science (even though their “science” consists primarily of marketing gibberish), 2) play the expert, 3) disparage other products, 4) make it very clear that more expensive products are always better, 5) become customers’ best friend (this one is crucial) and 6) of course, it’s free (supposing you buy at least two other products).
5 Salespeople Are Trained To Follow Customers And Push Sales Tactics Onto Them
Another visitor’s account describes the intensity with which commission-only salespeople fight for customers. After all, they are trained to turn “I’m just looking” into several hundred dollars in sales and their livelihood depends solely on this “art of persuasion”.
The visitor in question wrote on Yelp how she just loves visiting Saks Fifth Avenue for window shopping and just looking around and admiring. Then, one day, she had this experience of a sales lady literally following her like a car was following another car close to the bumper.
So she stopped and the sales lady, quite naturally, bumped into her.
Needless to say, the visitor wasn’t planning on buying anything that particular day and after explaining that she was merely looking and admiring the sales lady snapped at her that she can look in another store. Talk about overzealous selling!
A former Saks make-up artist, currently working as a photo editor for Newsweek, delineates how salespeople are trained to “become your best friend” who you will want to reconnect with again and again and again… They will want to know everything about you because they care a great deal about you... Except that they don’t.
The aforementioned former make-up artist admits she dreaded having to hear customers prattle on about people she didn’t know or care about, but she knew that if she feigned interest the client would trust her more.
4 One Sales Associate Somehow Misused Saks' Rules And Regulations And Ended Up Making Millions In Sales
Some Saks Fifth Avenue salespeople barely eke out a living and some… well, for some only the sky’s the limit and they end up raking in millions of dollars in sales. It has to be noted, though, that it’s because they accumulated their fortune through not entirely legal means.
According to “employee stories” on Trendchser.com, a former saleslady, Cecille Villacorta worked at Saks Fifth Avenue from 2000 to 2006 and quickly became one of their top-notch salespeople and somehow managed to make more than $27 million in sales for the store. This would all be perfectly fine, except for one thing: She was accused of crediting refunds to customers’ credit cards, even when they hadn’t actually returned any items.
Plus she was giving customers rebates for gift cards which they never purchased in the first place. Oops.
Still, we should give her credit for making around $400,000 (legally!) in the last year she worked for Saks Fifth Avenue, which is a hefty sum of money and the reason her three thousand customers visited the store purely because, you know, she was their “best friend” who listened patiently to their daily woes...
3 And Some Sales Associates Just Resort To Outright Stealing
Then there happen to be sales associates who are much more ruthless and bolder employees, for whom rules exist so they could be broken and one day these employees resort to outright stealing.
The Epoch Times reported that five Saks Fifth Avenue employees stole $400,000 (the same amount of money the aforementioned Cecille Villacorta made for Saks by the way) worth of designer shoes, handbags, and other accessories in an identity theft ring.
Tamara Williams, the ringleader of the scheme, worked with four other sales associates at the Saks Fifth Avenue store in NYC to steal more than 200 pairs of shoes and 80 handbags and accessories using the credit card and personal information of over 20 Saks customers.
Hundreds of boxes of luxury goods from brands like Chanel, Valentino, and Gucci were found during a police raid on Williams’ apartment in Queens.
The most expensive pair of stolen shoes was more than $2,000 and the most expensive handbag was $10,000. In the picture accompanying this entry you can see some of their "trophies".
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance had his say on the matter: “This is hardly the ordinary stolen property case, it’s a group of individuals who were focusing on high-value objects to receive high-value returns on the black market.”
2 Holly Woodlawn, A Former Saks Employee, Joyfully Recounts How She Broke The Store's Strict Rules
And then there are Saks Fifth Avenue employees who do steal, but in a more innocuous way, and afterward they post a hilarious video about it on YouTube for the whole world to watch. Like Holly Woodlawn did.
Wait, who is Holly Woodlawn again?
She’s the famous Andy Warhol muse, the woman whom the famous Velvet Underground song "Take A Walk On The Wild Side" is about, and she’s also one of the first transgender people known to be working for Saks Fifth Avenue.
According to sources from Trendchaser.com, Holly sought out employment as a clothing model with Saks because “someone had to earn some money”. Mind you, this was back in the 1960s, and Saks store had no clue she was transgender at the time.
The story about breaking Saks’ rules goes that Holly would invite her friends to come visit her and tell them to go try items on in the dressing room when in reality they were hiding clothes underneath their winter coats and subsequently leaving the store.
Meanwhile, Holly would pretend like she doesn't see anything and not call security. Then she said she would meet her friends at some cheap dive bar and they would open their coats which would be stuffed full of stolen clothes.
1 A Highly Hooking Work Environment Turns Some Of Its Employees Into Shopaholics
Saks Fifth Avenue is a luxury behemoth and, as such, has an immense power over people who frequent it on a daily basis. Its employees are the living evidence of what spending time in such a highly hooking environment can do to your behavior and mental health. It might even turn you into a shopaholic!
Charles, a former Saks employee, explains on Trendchaser.com how slowly but steadily you become like your environment, and in order to live up to his Saks Fifth Avenue surroundings he ended up accumulating debt.
Ultimately, he lost control over his compulsive spending and his parents had to intervene. He turned into a bona fide shopaholic.
Unsurprisingly, Charles was pretty good at his sales job, too, and by the age of twenty-four, he was a top salesman at Saks Fifth Avenue, on a nationwide level. Perhaps making good money at Saks was precisely what fueled his spending addiction.
Excessive spending, in turn, changed the way his brain excreted dopamine, thus making it highly desirable to buy more and more stuff.
It goes without saying that eventually that same “shopaholic high” or an adrenaline rush is harder to attain and then anxiety kicks in. Well, it’s safe to say that shopaholism is far from being fun.
References: Saksfifthavenue.com, Wikipedia.com, Trendchaser.com, TheCut.com, Glassdoor.com, Topjobapplications.com, Entrepreneur.com, Yelp.com, Newsweek.com, Theepochtimes.com