BrainTrust Query: Are retailers under-valuing the importance of fitting rooms?

Discussion
Sep 09, 2009

Commentary by Marge Laney,
President, Alert Technologies, Inc.

The most important conversion area and at the same time the
least serviced area in apparel retail is the fitting room. Customers
who use a fitting room are 71 percent more likely to buy than those simply
browsing the sales floor. Add to that the fact that the customer who
uses the fitting room will buy about twice what the browser buys, according
to a study from London consultancy Envision Retail. And, if they are provided
with service while in the fitting room they will buy almost three times what
the browser buys. And we’re not going to even talk about what browsers buy
and then return because of fit issues.

Many retailers believe they are servicing their fitting rooms
properly. They’ve created elaborate fitting room service strategies aimed at
all the right targets: improved customer experience, increased conversion,
increased ADS (average dollar sale) and UPTs (units per transaction). However,
other retailers seem to be oblivious to the importance of the fitting room
and view it instead as a necessary evil and a loss prevention nightmare.

From the customer’s perspective, the fitting room experience
can run the gamut from a luxurious and pampered experience to one that is downright
filthy and demeaning. But, no matter where the retailer falls on the
continuum, one thing is true in most fitting rooms: the customer has no easy
and hassle-free way to contact a sales associate once they are inside.

The retailer that has a great fitting room service strategy
has trained their associates to drive traffic to the fitting room, they conduct
wardrobing classes to train associates to help the customer find the right
outfit for any occasion, and they have created talking points to help associates
establish a connection with the shopper to understand their shopping needs
and desires. But, once inside the fitting room, that connection is lost. To
connect again requires the associate to knock on the door at the moment the
customer is in need of service.

Time for full disclosure: Alert Technologies develops custom
systems for stores that provide push-button notification from inside fitting
rooms. The technology also monitors activity to provide the operator with data:
the number of fitting room visits, the duration of each visit, total fitting
room load, etc. Retailers are able to use this information to set load standards,
and monitor and score each store accordingly, for example.

We’ve had years of success with these services, and yet I
often hear from retailers that view access technology as a barrier to personalized
service. It seems that some aspirational chain retailers want that proprietor
feel that small shops and very high-end retailers can achieve. Sole proprietors
and high-end retailers are emotionally and economically vested in each of their
customers. It’s a great thing to aspire to, but with high turnover, little
incentive, etc., are chains fighting an uphill battle?

According to what we’ve found in our pilots with major retailers,
door knocking is less than two percent effective in connecting an associate
with the customer when the customer is in need of service. And customers find
it annoying! It is also the first thing that stops happening when the store
gets busy. And the poor customer has less control than the associate. Other
than peeking out the door in hopes of making eye contact with a passing associate,
the customer has no way of accessing the service they have been sold and long
to experience.

Discussion Questions: Why do you
think some retailers view access technology as a barrier rather than an
enabler of personalized fitting room service? What advantages and
disadvantages do you see to fitting room access and monitoring technology?

Join the Discussion!

19 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: Are retailers under-valuing the importance of fitting rooms?"

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Bob Phibbs
Guest
8 years 3 months ago

I question how knocking on a door by an associate is only 2% effective–it shows the employee is there. Pushing a button would still require someone to leave whatever they are doing immediately–whether with a customer, on the phone or in the backroom and running to that one customer. Dressing rooms have always been able to drive higher check and units through well-trained staff who are close by.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
8 years 3 months ago

What customers need is service–defined on their own terms. This can be delivered in person or through technology. Some may see technology as impersonal, but this may well be a generational bias.

Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
8 years 3 months ago
In the current battle for market share, anything that enhances the overall shopping experience for the customer is bound to be a plus to sales. Having attentive and well-trained service at the push of a button is obviously an experience-enhancer. However, this needs to be put in the context of the current service levels on the sales floor. With most retailers struggling to balance service levels with selling expense, most customers are grateful to be able to find an associate to ring them out, much less one to work with them end-to-end. Moreover, the only thing worse than not having… Read more »
Nikki Baird
Guest
8 years 3 months ago
I think the issue is more structural than that. Fitting rooms–as a percent of floor space–were mostly designed and placed in stores before retail really realized how important the fitting room is. At least, that’s the only reason I can think of as to why they are tucked into corners, sometimes excruciatingly small, and often hard to find. If they were truly appreciated as the conversion magic they can be, wouldn’t they be featured more prominently? I’m thinking mostly of department stores here but even at places like Forever 21 stores, which have grand entrances to fitting rooms that you… Read more »
Marc Gordon
Guest
Marc Gordon
8 years 3 months ago

This situation is based more on attitude than costs. The fact is that many retailers tend to be short sighted when it comes to ROI from staff. Once they start seeing staff as a key components to generating revenue rather than “warm bodies” that drain profits, they will start delivering better customer service and increase sales performance.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
8 years 3 months ago
Care must be taken in reading the data. Intuitively, the data makes sense, but are we looking at like-stores and like-shoppers? Is the browser’s intention to browse or buy? Are those who use the fitting rooms on a shopping-to-buy mission? That said, one wonders why all fitting rooms are not equipped with a device such as the proposed. If the customer needs help, give them the means to get help. Knocking on the door is random at best and intrusive at worst. The solution should not be this difficult. How could it be a barrier to personalization? The customer engages… Read more »
Paula Rosenblum
Guest
8 years 3 months ago
I’ve experienced both the knocking on the door and being completely ignored. To my mind, the ability to get the attention of a sales clerk on my own terms is far better than either other choice. I think the reason why many retailers don’t provide fitting room service is obvious–it costs money to have someone both at the register and helping customers. Even though there are use cases showing the ATV and conversion rates go up, our retail survey respondents consistently tell us (with regard to in-store technologies) “because of the overall capital requirements, we never even get to the… Read more »
Mel Kleiman
Guest
8 years 3 months ago
Most retailers talk customer service and hopefully think about where people are in the buying cycle but if it takes labor dollars, that seems to be the line in the sand. Do anything you can to increase sales but don’t spend labor dollars. Times are tough. The reason the web has been so powerful is because everything that happens on it can be measured and the smart retailers have been doing everything they can to make sure that once they have a buyer in their online store, they continue to serve them and make suggestions on what else they may… Read more »
Carol Spieckerman
Guest
8 years 3 months ago
This sounds like another example of retailers overestimating their customer service prowess. When retailers’ perceptions of their expertise clash with reality, solutions can get vetoed out of defense. When I’m in a fitting room, I’m in a hopeful, upbeat mood. I WANT to love the fit of those pants, for the blouse to work perfectly with the skirt . . . I’m excited about the possibilities or I would be in there taking off and putting on. That means that, if everything goes smoothly and my hopes are validated, I’m probably going to buy. I’m literally a hopeful, well-wishing captive… Read more »
Jonathan Marek
Guest
8 years 3 months ago
OK, as one of the stats-oriented people in the BrainTrust, I have to comment on the terrible confusion of correlation and causation in this study. To wit: “Customers who use a fitting room are 71 percent more likely to buy than those simply browsing the sales floor.” This is one small step away from saying “customers who visit a checkout register are an infinite percent more likely to buy than those who don’t.” Customers visiting the fitting room are completely different than those that don’t, in a self-selected way. They are visiting the fitting room because they have a higher… Read more »
R Seaman
Guest
R Seaman
8 years 3 months ago
Stores who have drastically reduced or eliminated fitting room service have lost my business. I used to buy my suits, sport coats and dress trousers at J. C. Penney. On my very last visit to their store I used a fitting room to try on garments, one that had not seen a sales person for who knows how long, cluttered with hangers and pins. Then I had to carry my purchase to a central wrap and take it home for alterations. I am sure many customers have experienced the same thing and have stopped buying dress clothing in most of… Read more »
George Anderson
Guest
8 years 3 months ago

One question: Who is it that goes looking for an associate to provide help for my wife or teenage daughter when I’m not hanging outside the dressing room? On behalf of all guys holding onto handbags in retail stores, I vote for the technology.

Janet Poore
Guest
Janet Poore
8 years 3 months ago
Years ago, while freelancing, I worked part time in the dress department at Macy’s to earn some extra cash. Back then, sales associates were paid a draw vs. commission, so it was in our best interest to be attentive to customers. Checking on customers was a given and bringing them items I thought they might like resulted in upselling. Now, Macy’s and most other stores pay only an hourly rate, just above minimum wage. There’s no incentive for attentive customer service. They need to go back to the commission based model and provide better service. These days, it’s almost impossible… Read more »
Ted Hurlbut
Guest
Ted Hurlbut
8 years 3 months ago

Fitting rooms have come to be seen by most apparel retailers the same way they see the rest of their sales floor; as a self-service environment. They are as ill equipped to capitalize on greater service in the fitting rooms as they are throughout the rest of the store. What few employees that there are appear to be primarily there for monitoring customers and maintaining security, not actually helping customers. It’s a reflection of the philosophy that customer-facing employees are an expense to be minimized rather than revenue generators.

Doug Stephens
Guest
Doug Stephens
8 years 3 months ago

It’s been my experience that retailers will often resist technology, claiming to favor good old-fashioned service and then simply not deliver it.

If you’re competitive differentiation is around high-touch service, then make the fitting room experience a personal service dream. Put someone in the room.

If you’re not prepared to do that, then install a button.

And if you’re not prepared to install a button or put anyone in the room, then you better make sure your prices are really, really cheap.

Kai Clarke
Guest
8 years 3 months ago

Putting a product into the hands of a customer and giving them more service as they try the product is simply a winning combination. It has always been a winner, at all times, and provides for enhanced sales, profits, and happier customers. There is nothing new here, except for a realization that customer service is key to any business. Any retailer who realizes this realizes better profits, happier customers, and more sales.

Roger Saunders
Guest
8 years 3 months ago

Focus on the SERVICE–and generally, that means listening to and speaking with the customer as they are dealing with clothing, shoes, etc. Not only will stores boost revenues, they will protect themselves from “lost customers.”

BIGresearch Surveys indicate that one of the key issues why Consumers point to NO LONGER making an Apparel Store the one they “Shop Most Often” is the lack of service in the changing/tailoring area. Retailers should never lose a customer when they are this close to the final buying decision. Take care of them.

Rick Boretsky
Guest
Rick Boretsky
8 years 3 months ago
I think everyone agrees that having better service in the fitting room areas is crucial–who would want less service while standing half naked in a 3×3 closet? But I would think that consumers, in our highly advanced technology interactive society, would want something more sophisticated, interactive, and responsive then simply pressing a button? I was involved with a company (www.ribastoresolutions.com) that developed a kiosk-based solution that gave the consumer the power to browse, change, and request new merchandise (different sizes, colors, styles), at the touch of a finger. These requests were communicated directly to a sales associate via a handheld… Read more »
Scott Knaul
Guest
Scott Knaul
8 years 3 months ago

After working for a couple of women’s apparel retailers I can confidently say that service in the fitting rooms–and simply having enough fitting rooms–will drive in-store conversion and an increase in the average dollar sale. There’s a commitment that is made by the client when they actually put merchandise on. Not only does it drive positive initial results, but a good fitting room program will also decrease the number of returns a retailer sees.

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