Byline: Lynne Richardson

DALLAS — Either Dallas customers are creatures of habit, or retailers here are treating them right.
A random survey of women found that nearly all shop for many of their beauty needs at the same stores every time. And customer service is a strong factor in choosing that store.
The women interviewed for this survey were all attendees at “Visions: The Women’s Expo,” an all-day affair held at Dallas Market Center, Aug. 28-29, sponsored, in part, by J.C. Penney. Of the thousands of women who attended the event, WWD asked random questions of 10 and interviewed seven in-depth.
Not surprisingly, Neiman Marcus was lauded widely for its service, but more price-conscious shoppers also credit salespeople at Foley’s and Dillard’s department stores with making extra efforts to satisfy customers.
Michele Corvino, 41, and Marisol Mirsky, 27, are work colleagues at an area conference center. Although Corvino puts “service” behind “product quality” as factors in her choice of store, both agree with the majority of respondents that local retailers do a good job.
“If a salesperson doesn’t have exactly what you want, they’ll call other stores to locate it and get it for you,” said Mirsky. Corvino also gives credit to Bath & Body Works, in Dallas’s Galleria Mall.
“Their service is terrific, too. They call and tell me when they get new stock in and make sure it’s waiting for me. It’s nice to be seen as an individual, not just a walk-in customer,” she said.
Debi Kerns, 21, is another fan of Bath & Body Works. She is a loan administrator for the Galleria Credit Union at the Galleria and spends many lunch hours haunting the mall. By her own admission, she spends “way too much on this stuff,” but adds, “I’m not impressed by service. I pretty much know what I want when I go in to Bath & Body Works, so I’m not looking for advice. I like the product quality and it’s reasonably priced. I also like that the fragrance is concentrated and stays a long time.”
A product’s availability in stores is important, too. Perfumes are frequently purchased as gifts, according to all respondents, and consequently need to be available for the special day.
Corvino says it’s irresponsible for retailers to advertise a new fragrance if it’s not in all their stores. She has been known to look for a new fragrance at a drugstore, if it’s advertised more cheaply, to try it out at a cut-rate price. Both she and Mirsky usually shop fragrances at Dillard’s, which invariably have the latest scents. Kerns also buys perfume at Dillard’s, “because my Mother always has, but if they didn’t have it, I’d find it somewhere else and probably not go back,” she stated.
Mother and daughter, Rena Harper, 48, a sample maker, and Latonya Harper, 16, a student, also like to frequent the malls and “look at everything.” Consequently, they have a good idea of where to find any particular item. “But if our first choice is not available, we usually buy something else; we’re always open to finding something new,” said Latonya. Her mother agrees, adding, “Price and service are my top criteria and Foley’s and J.C. Penney are my favorite stores.”
Dallas women do, indeed, have their favorite stores and Target is often mentioned as an economical first choice for bath and body items, along with Eckerd and Drug Emporium, the latter getting a number of votes for fragrance purchases.
But no other store gets the raves for service and availability that Neiman’s garners. On the subject of cosmetics, whether Neiman’s is the purveyor of one special item or the supplier of all one’s needs, it ranked among the women polled as Dallas’s favorite upscale store.
Corvino only buys Bobbi Brown lipstick at Neiman’s, “which is the one place I can find it; it is very expensive, but I love shopping there,” she said.
“I buy all my cosmetics at Neiman’s because I use Laura Mercier exclusively,” said socialite Karen Shuford. Enjoying the Visions Expo with her was her friend, Dedie Leahy, who owns a public relations firm. Both these elegant 40-somethings laud the Mercier line, along with Neiman’s customer service.
“The service is legendary and well deserves the reputation,” said Shuford. “It’s hard to beat.” She said she enjoys the personal invitations from the Mercier salespeople to try new products.
The Chanel boutique in Highland Park Village also comes in for praise, “superb service,” said Shuford.
But these ladies are not beyond bargain hunting.
“I definitely look for bargains and deals on products I normally use,” said Shuford, admitting to picking up deodorants and moisturizers at Eckerd’s and always using “a drugstore alpha hydroxy cream.”
Kerns will not compromise on purity for her product choices and shops health food stores for aromatherapy bath and body items.
The special, “gift with purchase” offers by Clinique and Lancome are popular with many and bring in customers to J.C. Penney, Foley’s or Dillard’s, depending on those shoppers’ personal loyalties.
Loyalties also extend to products and few interviewees could immediately recall any changes in their recent shopping habits. Some acknowledged they were spending more freely on beauty purchases, while Shuford notes that she doesn’t have time to browse much these days and Kerns, for one, intends to cut back on frivolous purchases,
“I have drawers full of this stuff; I need to be more selective,” she said.
The advent of Internet shopping has yet to make much of an impact on Dallas shoppers, although one or two have tried it.
Leahy has checked out the Avon site and Mirsky has shopped Clinique through the web. Using her credit card, she ordered for mail delivery and would do it again.
“It’s easy and convenient. The web page shows the range of products and gives options,” she noted. Corvino said she may try this method, if only “to save time spent shopping during my lunch hour.”
Teenage Latonya thinks half the fun of shopping for cosmetics is the “hands-on” experience and deems Internet purchases “risky,” although her mother contends “we’ll get there before long.”
Most respondents agreed that online sales are likely to take off eventually, but many feel, like young Latonya, that the thrill of discovery will be lost. Others are determined to continue to frequent the counters, where personal service reigns.