[Image of: RetailWire Logo and Tagline (for print)]

Mannequins get too real for retail

January 30, 2014

A growing number of retailers are looking to get real these days. American Eagle is promoting its new lingerie with models in ads sans retouching. Others such as Debenhams in the U.K. have begun using mannequins in sizes more reflective of what their customers look like instead of some body image they'll likely never attain.

The next stage in retail imitating life also involves mannequins and this time they not only will come in more reality-based sizes, but will have tattoos and body hair. (We're not just talking about the tops of their heads either.)

According to an Associated Press report, retailers have cut back on mannequin expenses for years, going with the white, headless, one-size across the board models. Now, some are going the fully realistic route, including physical touches such as love handles and hair in the nether regions.

The reason for the change at stores including American Apparel, David's Bridal and Saks Fifth Avenue is that retailers believe more realistic looking mannequins give shoppers a better idea of what a given garment will look like on them, something they probably are not getting while shopping online.

According to NPD Group, via AP, 42 percent of customers say mannequins influence in-store purchasing decisions. That put them right behind friends and family in the influence category.


Discussion Questions:

Will more lifelike mannequins help drive sales in retail stores? Are some of the body details being included in the new mannequins crossing over into tastelessness?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

How much more or less effective do you think lifelike mannequins will be in comparison to the headless models Americans are used to seeing in stores?


More "reality-based" mannequins are a good idea, but they probably need to be aspirational for each store's target customer looking at them. But the premise behind this idea, or the Aerie campaign, is a healthy one.

The bigger issue -- and a longstanding pet peeve -- is the maintenance and placement of store mannequins. It's a simple "Retail 101" concept to present mannequins wearing outfits adjacent to the fixture where the customer can buy the product -- but it's a management discipline often overlooked. Just as bad: Leaving mannequins outfitted with clothes that sold out long ago.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Dick Seesel, Principal, Retailing In Focus LLC

No, please no! Isn't it enough that we have to look at body types that are not pleasing to the eye in real life? Can't we keep mannequins and in fact, ads for that matter, aspirational? Don't we have enough reality in our media to have it balance out the types of bodies we can at least strive to achieve even though most of us will not? Just saying.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Zel Bianco, President, founder and CEO, Interactive Edge

Unless the cost of more life-like mannequins is prohibitive, I believe it can add some value by both defining a brand and showing a better representation of clothes. However (and that's a big one), there is a slippery slope that can quickly get retailers in trouble. The "realism" really needs to be tailored to the brand and approached with common sense. What's acceptable for American Apparel probably would be over the top for Nordstrom.

Then there's the issue of race representation and body types that to some, may be seen as insensitive.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Ken Lonyai, Digital Innovation Strategist, co-founder, ScreenPlay InterActive

Tasteless sells depending on the product. We all seem to be trying to combine political correctness with basic human psyche. The basic human instincts that trigger pleasure in the human mind will usually win. I just hope they don't get rid of those mirrors that make me look thinner. Overall I don't think lifelike mannequins will drive sales, but perhaps provide a displeasing reminder of how we do look.

David Livingston, Principal, DJL Research

Perhaps the question has to do with longing vs. indifference. Do I want to look like her? Or don't I care what she looks like? Am I interested in what she's modeling?

I don't expect to look like the slender mannequin, but I wouldn't want to look like the mannequin who turns me off. If I see someone who has my body build and she is attractive I'm as likely to take note as I am of the pretty outfit on the traditional mannequin (who by the way may become invisible for me). I am drawn to the realistic mannequin because of a sense of familiarity. For the second I am attracted by the product. That may have a better result. There's no doubt that the more realistic model can be more relatable. I'm not sure that the time I am visually engaged with one or the other mannequin will be more likely or not to influence a sale.

However, that visual engagement will impact how I feel about the store and my emotional well being/comfort in that environment. You've got to get me to want to hang out in the store if I am going to make a purchase and come back again. This is where I think the look and "feel" of the mannequin makes a difference.

I remember the old IBM dress code concept in that a white shirt and tie reduces the risk of customer aversion. There's a need for retailers to take that into consideration. Neutralizing mannequins and complete avoidance of realistic portrayals may be too far in one direction. Body hair and tats are likely to polarize. So who the retailer is willing to lose as a loyal customer may be the critical question.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Joan Treistman, President, The Treistman Group LLC

Results count ... everything else is conversation.

There can be a lot of compelling conversation about the need to avoid stereotyping, body image, ethnicity etc. Many arguments can be made on many sides regarding the "best" mannequin attributes.

Retail stores are fighting for survival. It would seem that mannequins are a key differentiator, especially for specialty and fashion.

At the end of the day, mannequins are tools that are supposed to help stores sell something. Why not test and measure which mannequins appeal to more consumers and sell more products?

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Chris Petersen, PhD, President, Integrated Marketing Solutions

If it brings more sales, then go for it. Otherwise, it does not matter. Are we concerned about selling the mannequin or the clothes being shown?

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Ed Rosenbaum, CEO, The Customer Service Rainmaker, Rainmaker Solutions

If more lifelike mannequins help drive sales stores, are live and naked models next in stores?

As to mannequin exposures crossing the line into tastelessness, the rejection of yesterday's propriety has become rather fashionable of late. Nonetheless, though the trend maybe titillating, it is still tasteless.

Gene Hoffman, President/CEO, Corporate Strategies International

I'm with Ed Rosenbaum. The purpose of mannequins is to sell clothes. Test different mannequins and see which sell the most clothes. What works, works.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Jonathan Marek, Senior Vice President, Applied Predictive Technologies

I'm totally with Chris Petersen on this one. As for mannequins being pretty, or pretty ugly, I've got other things to worry about and won't really notice anyway.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Warren Thayer, Editorial Director & Co-Founder, Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer

What we need to understand that what is aspirational for some is unattainable for others. I'm all for realistic mannequins, but like others believe that their effective use (placement, current items being displayed, etc., is something that could be done now to make any mannequin more effective in generating sales.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Steve Montgomery, President, b2b Solutions, LLC

I'm gonna go out on a limb here but, I really don't think it's the mannequin that sells. Rather, it's the curation. In the early days, models, for example, were skinny because they were merely coat-hangers for the clothes. Models were not remembered for their faces nor were they supposed to be aspirations. It was all about showing off the clothes.

Throwing clothes onto a real life mannequin may not be the best possible way to show off the clothes. I'm just sayin'. But using real life sized mannequins to demonstrate how certain drapes work for different bodies could be a "real plus." No pun intended.

Smart retailers will figure out how to implement curation AND mannequins to enhance sales. IMHO

Lee Kent, Sharing Insights for Success in Retail, YourRetailAuthority

Mannequin could become more attractive to a specific shopper group with more realistic displays. As well as attracting shoppers, mannequins show how the garment would look - sleeves, lengths, hems, patterns and strips that you can't tell from the hangar, so these displays are important. The best type of styling (and sizing) can help make a connection. But while beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, good taste should be a given.

Anne Bieler, Sr. Associate, Packaging and Technology Integrated Solutions

Perhaps. However, it is only a small part of a product's presentation. The direct feel, fit and price of the product (which have nothing to do with the mannequins) have a greater and more direct on the consumer's purchasing decision.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Kai Clarke, CEO, American Retail Consultants

That's definitely a step forward. If the store can make a not so perfect mannequin look nice in an outfit - definitely that outfit makes it worth a try. Many customers though attracted by the mannequin often feel that it would look nice only on the mannequin and not on them.

We have to see how this plays out with other technology displays such as a virtual try-on and digital window displays.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Shilpa Rao, Practice Head - Merchandising, Tata Consultancy Services

I feel like it won't be making any difference in purchase tendency, but could attract people to shop to at your store.

Noah Jeff, Account Manager, Trade Lines Shop Equipment Ltd

Search RetailWire
Follow Us...
[Image of:  Twitter Icon] [Image of:  Facebook Icon] [Image of:  LinkedIn Icon] [Image of:  RSS Icon]

Getting Started video!

View this quick tutorial and learn all the essentials...

RetailWire Newsletters