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[22 comments]

Will flattery get retailers anywhere in the changing room?

August 13, 2014

Undiscriminating flattery may suit some. Not all. Whereas many retailers are introducing technology to women's changing rooms so customers can instantly get reactions from trusted friends, British plus-size clothing retailer Yours (yoursclothing.co.uk) has taken things a step further.

Yours' latest unique selling proposition is talking mirrors. As the Daily Telegraph reports, "each cubicle is programmed with a number of generic compliments which can be fired at shoppers as they try out the merchandise."

"Wow, you look amazing!" is among the recorded compliments spoken in a female voice, the Telegraph reported. Shoppers can reportedly choose whether to play the messages.

Journalist Claire Cohen agrees that trying on can be trying — in every sense — but considers the robotic voice "insulting and patronizing," wondering whether they're "trying to empower their customers, or console them?"

A spokesperson for Yours told the Telegraph, "We feel all women, no matter their size, should feel amazing and have a great experience when shopping with us."

Just a few months ago, Karl Lagerfeld's marginally more interactive alternative using built-in iPads were installed in the company's flagship store in London. The devices enable customers to share selfies with real live people via the internet. Both retailers' spokespeople insist they are trying to "engage" with customers, although Lagerfeld's chief executive admitted that it's more about the brand than the experience.

Last year, Bloomingdale's introduced augmented reality into its changing rooms. The technology gives customers a 3-D view of virtual clothes. Customers merely wave their hand in front of a screen before sharing via the internet, according to Internet Retailer. Accessories can be added at will for variety. Look, in this case, may trump feel albeit offering greater choice and computerized recommendations without the hassle of dressing and undressing. The technology also stores information that can later be used for targeted ads.

Another reason cited for using the technology includes discouraging people from buying more than they intend to keep, just so they can try things on and decide at home — possibly improving the situation for retailers overwhelmed by returns.

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Discussion Questions:

Will automated comments in changing rooms have the desired effect of making customers feel good about themselves and, in turn, increase sales? How can retailers make changing rooms into a more effective sales closer?

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 effective do you think automated comments in changing rooms will be in making customers feel good about themselves and, in turn, increasing sales?

Comments:

Didn't Disney do this first and better with "Mirror Mirror On The Wall", oh wait, it was a real barometer of the queen's appeal.

Any time the word "generic" is coupled with "compliments" you are bound to be on the wrong side of an engaging experience.

Unless you're 10. Or five. Or are a witch to begin with.

If there's one thing lacking in retail today, it's authentic associates bringing the best of their personalities to the job of selling the merchandise. Each one, like their customers, is as unique as a fingerprint.

Technology like talking generic mirrors brings bupkis to the shopping experience to drive conversions, trial or KPIs. But it sure is a shiny object.

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Bob Phibbs, President/CEO, The Retail Doctor

I have talked about technology for the changing room for years. It has the ability to help both the shopper and the retailer. What items go into the changing room and are never purchased? Why? It may be size differences from last year's products or just color preference, but we never record the data so we do not know. What about up-selling with technology in the changing room? It could be a voice that tells the shopper the other items that would look great with that top, etc.

I do not know about speaking technology in the changing room, but what if I have not yet put on the new garment and, while I am standing there in my underwear, the mirror tells me I look amazing? Freaky for sure. However, being able to communicate with the sales rep to retrieve another size, or with friends to verify the look is good. I think a satisfied shopper could also influence their friends to come on down to the store for a good selection and great sale.

Bottom line, technology that includes communications in the changing room is all good.

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Frank Riso, Principal, Frank Riso Associates, LLC

I agree with Ms. Cohen, automated compliments are "insulting and patronizing." Providing technology so customers can quickly and easily gather friends' opinions or see how accessories would compliment an outfit make sense.

Many consumers want their friends' opinions before committing to a purchase. Why not enable this? Using AR to suggest accessories makes tremendous sense and can drive increased sales and profits. Taking a sales person out of the equation removes what consumers see as bias. I'd like to see retailers ask consumers for their budgets and then use AR to suggest products in that price range.

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Max Goldberg, President, Max Goldberg & Associates

Hard to see how the automated comments from Yours will have an impact. While this is novel, it wouldn't influence me, but maybe positive reinforcement is all some people want/need. I won't say some of these efforts won't work, its early and mistakes will be made, but the selfies idea from Karl Lagerfeld seems like it might tap into the social aspect of shopping.

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Bill Davis, Director, MB&G Consulting

I don't want an automated message OR a real salesperson making disingenuous comments. I have a pretty good idea of how I look and what is flattering or not and certainly don't want to be told that I look great by a machine. I do want a real salesperson (or friends or spouse) to be available to give (honest) advice and help with suggestions of similar clothing, correct sizes and recommended accessories, but only if I request it. Frank's suggestion of getting REAL information on REAL reasons people don't buy, or don't buy a certain item is spot on.

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Naomi K. Shapiro, Strategic Market Communications, Upstream Commerce

Just because technology enables you to do something, it doesn't mean that you should do it. Fake flattery will get you no where, especially with women.

Women most value opinions from trusted friends. The most effective ways to make changing rooms a positive experience is to apply technology to enable interaction with others. But, the experience has to be both easy and quick in order to engage consumers.

To move consumers toward a purchase decision, the key is rapid feedback from the consumer's trusted network. Selfies are fine, but purchases go up dramatically if the consumer can get instantaneous feedback from friends. A current challenge is that messaging and Twitter still take typing and time in order to attach and send a photo.

Still waiting for some retailer to test something simple like enabling Skype on a tablet in a dressing room so consumers can talk real-time with friends about their new outfit.

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Chris Petersen, PhD, President, Integrated Marketing Solutions

I'm trying to stay positive and find a silver lining in the Yours mirror incarnation, but Claire Cohen is right. To me this is a combination of the first sin of technology "thou shalt not use technology for technology's sake," and very weak marketing. If a customer tries on a clothing item and thinks "no, not for me" or "I look terrible" and then the system says "Wow, you look amazing!" that is very patronizing and disrespectful.

Systems that can tap personal preferences of individual shoppers, utilize AI to learn what a consumer's likes and dislikes are, or get real-time feedback from friends make more sense.

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Ken Lonyai, Digital Innovation Strategist, co-founder, ScreenPlay InterActive

Remember the generation that we always ramble on about? The Millennials. They get a kick out of Siri. They dig selfies. And they would love a changing room that blends music and automated feedback.

The spenders are a group that loves any kind of feedback possible, from pre-recorded to real people. Best to make sure the system has a MUTE button—for the non-Millennials.

Some of the BrainTrust just has to realize that the Millennials will never be understood.

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Tom Redd, Vice President, Strategic Communications, SAP Global Retail Business Unit

No buying decision is final until the try-on is complete and customers use fitting rooms to make their buying decisions! The most significant investment to be made to improve operations and profitability is in the fitting room, as the bottom-line performance of the store relies on their effective use.

Performance indicators compiled over the past decade justify the need to allocate resources to help retailers understand their fitting rooms and improve the fitting room experience. What I'm talking about goes beyond adding chairs, improving lighting and implementing technology that serves the PR objectives of retailers rather than their customers' needs.

I am advocating the use of technologies that automate the fitting room process by providing 100 percent real-time visibility of the fitting room process for the associates and managers, on demand service for each customer, unique and detailed insights into how customers are using your fitting rooms to make their buying decisions, how well each associate is executing your fitting room service strategy and how well each customer is being served on their terms and at their convenience. These investments will produce big improvements in the KPI's that matter—conversion, UPT, and ADS.

Unfortunately, fitting rooms have historically been viewed as an irritating necessity and have been treated as such across the industry, except in a few rare exceptions. Devoting resources to changing everyone's perception of fitting rooms is the best and most influential decision retail store executives could make in today's economic environment.

FYI, I have a book coming out about this very topic in the fall ... stay tuned!

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Marge Laney, President, Alert Technologies, Inc.

An automated voice has no credibility and is therefore useless.

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Christopher P. Ramey, President, Affluent Insights

This is a hilariously bad idea. Kids would be online mocking it in seconds. Cooing at customers—really?

Better to provide a place to sit, flattering light and a regular bit of attention to rejected try-ons. Customers also want an easy way to have a sales person bring them a different size. Let me also put in a vote for predictable sizes, so I don't have to try the merchandise on at all.

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Cathy Hotka, Principal, Cathy Hotka & Associates

Two keywords for retailers to use when deciding to implement a new customer engagement touch point. One, is it authentic? Is it delivered in a way that is consistent with the brand experience and with customer expectations? Automation is almost by definition not authentic. Especially when there are no brains or optimization of any kind behind it.

Two, is it genuine. Pushing a button to get a guaranteed compliment is not genuine. An employee at the cash register who asks "did you find everything" is not actually genuine either, because what are they really going to do about it if I say no? Stop the line, pile all my purchases to the side and go help me in the aisle? No they're not. So offering help when it's too late to do anything about it is not genuine. Offering compliments when it's clear there's no thought behind them is not genuine.

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Nikki Baird, Managing Partner, RSR Research

Having not been in a women's changing room since I was four or five years old, I am reminded of the old Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo Saturday Night Live sketch where they sneak into the ladies' room to understand why women always seem to go in together. They encounter a Shangri-La complete with fountains and young men waving fans and serving drinks.

I don't think gratuitous compliments are going to help sales, but I can see an opportunity to offer purchase suggestions based on what is being worn. It could be as simple as offering the customer a scanner for the bar code and then displaying different options for accessories or complimentary products.

Of course the ultimate automation is a holographic imaging device that allows the consumer to register their image on a server that can be linked to the products offered by the manufacturers, and they never have to leave home or visit a retailer to get their products. OK, maybe we don't want it to go there.

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Bill Bittner, Principal, BWH Consulting

I cannot fathom how an automated voice with pre-programmed compliments would be seen as a positive in a dressing room. As for the comment about not understanding Millennials, I have a different viewpoint. My perception is that the generation is MORE critical of disingenuous programmed compliments. They are more critical of advertising, seek the approval of "trusted" resources (friends, family, neighbors, peers, etc.,) and want to control the interaction or engagement to a greater degree. Manipulative attempts will be seen for what they are and will push them away, not attract them to shop there.

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David Zahn, Owner, ZAHN Consulting, LLC

This is a disturbing trend. I get sending images to your friends or your mom for opinions, but robotic talking mirrors are creepy. Most women know when they look good but still need affirmation.

A good sales person will understand my body type and suggest things to try on that will be flattering. She will ask to see what I look like when I try things on and offer feedback. She will encourage me to try on outfits that I didn't initially gravitate to but turn out looking great on me.

In other words, a good sales person will make shopping for clothes feel like I'm shopping with a friend. A talking mirror cannot do this. Technological advance is not a substitute for human interaction.

If retailers want to make changing rooms into more effective sales closers, they should provide well-trained and available staff who give personal service.

'RetailRetell'

There are plenty of exciting things going on in changing rooms today, but this talking mirror ain't one of them, IMHO! Take a look at what Hointers is doing, for example.

Hointers lets their customers use an app on their phone to select what goes to the dressing room. Then a sales associate/stylists makes suggestions to go with. The customer can opt to receive it in the changing room or not. Show the customer what they can do with an item. Make it into several outfits. All good stuff for closing the sale.

Lot's more where that came from, but that's my 2 cents today!

Lee Kent, Let's meet share and succeed in Retail, YourRetailAuthority

As a child I had a Chatty Cathy doll which told me "I like you!" or "You're my Best Friend!" or "Night Night!" when I pulled the cord in her neck. Needless to say this quickly palled as the doll's responses had nothing to do with the play scenario and I had no control over the conversation.

Of course this was several generations of technology ago, but the same principal applies here. I might look hideous in an outfit and a mirror telling me "You look Great!" isn't doing me any favors. I would value the honest opinion of friends or even the overly solicitous sales clerk over a disembodied and sightless mirror.

Marie haines, Director Merchandise Presentation, Big Red Rooster

This sounds like an idea worth trying...and then quickly discarding. I think some of the people here were overly quick to dismiss the automated aspect of it—are those auto emails saying "Happy Birthday" really so bad?—and should have concentrated on the disingenuous part; but no matter, bad is bad.

As for making changing rooms a "sales closer," I'm for getting the basics right: they should be clean, readily available, well lighted...did I mention clean? (I hate stepping on pins stuck on the carpet). People wanting to bring in robofriend are overthinking this.

'notcom'

I think the automated voice should have more logic to be effective. First ask the customer in the dressing room what they think about the article they tried on. Using voice recognition, if the customer said they like it, then the computer says "I agree, I thought you look amazing in that outfit!" But if the customer said "I didn't like it" then the computer says "I agree, I didn't think it fit your personality." That would be more realistic.

Ed Dunn, Founder, (Stealth Operation)

Generic comments replayed randomly in an effort to make shoppers feel better about their appearance in the changing room mirror is disingenuous and a waste of the retailers' investment. I'm shocked that such a poor idea could even find its way into production.

On the other hand, Lagerfeld's use of social technologies to enable interaction between the shopper and their friends is something that will assist the shopper to make better decisions.

I think retailers are missing the opportunity for accessory and add-on sales that technology in changing rooms could bring. A simple barcode scanner device (to recognize what is being tried on) in the changing room that could recommend complimentary pieces and/or accessories seems like a natural. If it was tied into inventory to identify other colors/sizes (and their locations) that would be helpful. These are easy, all of the tech exists, and there is not a huge cost.

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Larry Negrich, Vice President, Marketing, nGage Labs

Technology in change rooms is great, especially when coupled with interaction with the sales agents. Request new sizes, send more about this product to email, use some of the relevant matching algorithms used online to help shoppers find other products that are similar, etc. We did a demo of this at a retailer conference and it was very well received.

Having automated messages though? I would love to see the survey of this trial. The consumer that may be getting gratification from the message is probably the one that will think they are being watched in the change room despite the assurances.

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Gajendra Ratnavel, CEO, L Squared Digital Signage

I can't stand the inauthenticity of this idea, but just as consumers' enjoyment of sitcoms has been proven to increase even when they KNOW that the laugh track is canned, I can unfortunately see it generating increased results.

That said, how do you turn changing rooms into a more effective sales closer? A devoted sales associate. I am much more likely to actually buy something if there is someone there to grab me another size or color, or make a genuine and authentic recommendation on an item to pair with the product I'm trying on.

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Alexander Rink, CEO, 360pi

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