BrainTrust Query: Dressing Rooms More Than a Convenience

Discussion
Jan 10, 2011

Commentary by Bob
Phibbs
,
The Retail Doctor

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion
is a summary of a current article from the Retail Doc blog.

Initially, a fitting
area was for checking the “fit” of corsets and handmade clothing.  Department
stores included them eventually, and they became a decision zone for customers.
Now, most retailers see them only as conveniences for the customer. Yet the
facts are astounding:

  • Shoppers who use dressing rooms are 71 percent more likely
    to buy versus those who browse the sales floor at 28 percent.
  • Those who use
    dressing rooms buy approximately two times what the browser buys. And they
    return less.
    If they’re assisted in the dressing room, they will buy nearly two times
    what the unassisted buys.
  • My colleague Marge Laney with Alert Technologies who provided
    those statistics says, “There are only two reasons people use fitting rooms:
    number one – to steal something; or number two – make a buying decision.
    In both cases, service helps.”

Indeed, I found myself shopping at a Zara store recently.
I ended up on the third floor and discovered a small men’s section with some
nice flannel prints. I grabbed a large and went to the fitting rooms.

As I walked
to my dressing room I passed pegs with number tags on them. I figured during
busy times they must give these to people entering as a security precaution.
In my case, the retailer had only one girl working the entire floor. She didn’t
notice that I went into the dressing room.

After finding my arm wouldn’t go
through the sleeve, I put my shirt back on, walked out to grab the extra-large
and returned to the fitting room. Not a word from the girl.

After again finding
the extra-large too small, I just walked out looking like some Elvis impersonator
from Canada in a red, white, and black check shirt unbuttoned to the waist.
Still not a word from the girl who saw me go into the dressing room again;
she was just too busy standing behind the counter.

The XXL I found fit.

My time spent: 20 minutes.

I didn’t get mad and just walk out like most. Instead,
I did her job for her. Many times, stores let customers feel like unpaid associates.

But
what if you don’t sell clothes? Are there places someone could encourage you
to, ‘Try it on to see how it fits?’ Yes.

  • Cars. “Let’s take her for a test drive.”
  • Eyeglasses. “Let’s see how you like
    the frames.”
  • Bowling balls. “Try to pick this up to make sure the finger holes
    line up.”
  • Chain saws. “Feel its comfortable grip and notice how light this is.”
  • Toys.
    “Let’s open it up and see how easy it is to play.”
  • Food. “Free sample.”

When you get the item in someone’s hands or on their body,
they are more likely to bond with the item. The competitive advantage for retailers
able to train try it on and sell via the fitting rooms is meeting with success
for big retailers like Nordstrom.

Discussion Questions: Why do fitting rooms
appear to be a second-thought for many apparel retailers? What should the role
of the fitting room be?

Join the Discussion!

19 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: Dressing Rooms More Than a Convenience"

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Ian Percy
Guest
6 years 11 months ago
Why don’t many retailers pay attention to dressing rooms? Because they don’t think. We have all had poor ‘try it on’ experiences like Bob described, including store owners and managers. Yet store after store replicates the poor experience rather than change it. Many decisions are made for the convenience of the store, NOT for the convenience of the customer. Tiny dressing rooms save money and space, for example. “Since most of our customers are crooks, let’s use number tags and make sure the curtains are flimsy so we can see what they’re doing. One hook is plenty. And put just… Read more »
Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
6 years 11 months ago
As Bob points out, the lack of associates to effectively manage the sales opportunity in an efficiently run dressing room is a huge and obvious miss. It is just another symptom of a much larger syndrome. For decades, four-wall retailers overbuilt and then, as sales suffered, embraced promotional pricing to drive incremental sales. This obviously impacts margins negatively, leading to expense reduction as the only way to protect profitability. What’s the biggest controllable expense in four-wall? Store-level payroll. Staffing was cut, causing lower sales, more promotions, lower margins, and more staffing cuts. As evidence, 30 years ago there were over… Read more »
Max Goldberg
Guest
6 years 11 months ago
Good article, Bob. You said it all: why shouldn’t apparel retailers actively encourage customers to try on their products and assist that effort with attentive salespeople? It just makes sense. Other industries employ this tactic with great success. I would also add that retailers should take care to make their fitting rooms presentable. All too frequently, I go into a fitting room that is full of clothes that previous users did not buy, dirty and home to collections of stray pins. If retailers are serious about getting consumers to purchase, they need to be serious about letting consumers “test drive”… Read more »
Phil Rubin
Guest
6 years 11 months ago
The statistics about incremental purchasing tied to the use of fitting rooms — with and without sales help — are noteworthy. Retailers not paying real attention to them can be easily understood. First, fitting rooms take valuable square footage that cannot be used for merchandise. The area is not seen as part of the selling floor and thus it doesn’t get the same level of attention. Second, fitting rooms are tied to service, and service is unfortunately not a place where many retailers are increasing their investments. It’s easier to create a mobile app or a Facebook page than it… Read more »
Connie Kski
Guest
Connie Kski
6 years 11 months ago

Coldwater Creek does a great job with their fitting rooms. Floating associates ask the customer’s name and starts a fitting room for the customer with her NAME ON THE DOOR. Wow. Then they float in and out helping … and continue to use the customer’s name all the way to the cash wrap.

I’m impressed. I love shopping there. Even though I know that fairly quickly their items will go on sale and then to clearance, paying full price for that kind of in-store service works for me!

Janet Poore
Guest
Janet Poore
6 years 11 months ago
There are two separate issues: customer service and fitting rooms. Just about all stores have replaced commission with a low hourly wage. There is no incentive for the associates to sell clothes or help customers. They barely even clean out the dressing rooms. Basically all they do is ring up sales and do returns. There are also fewer associates on the floor than there used to be. This is true even in upscale department stores like Lord & Taylor. I once waited 20 minutes at the register with nobody in the department. Turns out that one associate clocked out and… Read more »
Anne Howe
Guest
6 years 11 months ago
Sometimes I think apparel retailers are over-investing in the power of external social media, apps and digital, while in fact missing the forest for the trees. Why ever would retailers under-invest in customer service in the fitting room? The biggest and most powerful social investment they can make is to offer someone for me to talk to while I am in their store. Do they really believe I’m going to take a photo of myself in a potential outfit, text it to Facebook or post it on Twitter and wait for my friends to give me the nod or the… Read more »
Gordon Arnold
Guest
6 years 11 months ago
In addition to the inventory for sale to the customers, most retailers are involved with renting space to their vendors to use for advertising and/or promotional inventory item sales. Advanced management floor plans clearly show areas of opportunity and potential to improve profitability with weighted per square foot sales results. One area considered a sacred trust is the service desk, which is a very close second to the cash register. These two areas are where 40% to 60% of customers come in to sole contact with an employee by customer design. And the % of customers that only want to… Read more »
Dan Berthiaume
Guest
Dan Berthiaume
6 years 11 months ago

Optimization is probably a big culprit, as I don’t think most (or any) optimization algorithms include figures for higher customer conversions due to quality fitting rooms. Retailers are looking at how to maximize the return on shelf space, which is a worthy goal, and I’m also not putting down the value of shelf/space optimization technology. But retailers need to look at some of the softer returns, such as higher conversion rates among shoppers who visit dressing rooms, as well as hard returns such as sales per square foot.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
6 years 11 months ago
Just think for a moment about the comfort (or lack of) of a dressing / fitting room. Maybe the previous shopper’s selections are still there and there is no room for you to sit or hang the selections you brought in. Maybe pins are still on the floor. Ouch to both.Let’s add to the comfort by having a clerk assigned to, or at least near, that area to watch over, assist you or maybe bring you different styles in your size. It is almost like having your own personal shopper. Does this add to your shopping enjoyment? I will say… Read more »
Ted Hurlbut
Guest
Ted Hurlbut
6 years 11 months ago

What do sales associates and fitting rooms have in common? It seems retailers feel that the positive contribution they make to sales must be hard to quantify. Sales associates have merely become an expense line on the P&L to be minimized, and I guess fitting rooms simply don’t generate any quantifiable sales per square foot. As Anne Howe points out, retailers continue to disinvest in human-based customer service in favor of technology driven “substitutes” like digital messaging and media.

Eliott Olson
Guest
Eliott Olson
6 years 11 months ago

Is is easier to sell a piece of clothing when you have someone ready to answer the question, “Do these pants make me look fat?”

Doug Pruden
Guest
Doug Pruden
6 years 11 months ago
Two responses: First, one of the advantages that brick and mortar clothing retailers have over their online competition is the opportunity to try on clothes. If the store hopes to stay in business, making an effort to win those points should be a no-brainer. If a sales associate can be there to provide alternative sizes and colors, all the better. And to at least be on par with the online merchants, perhaps that associate can be proactive and recommend different styles that “other shoppers like you also tried on.” Second, as to how those fitting rooms are staffed and what… Read more »
George Whalin
Guest
George Whalin
6 years 11 months ago
Today, dressing rooms are more important than ever for some retail segments. In those stores with limited space and low prices it may be necessary to have small, stand-up dressing rooms. Since these types of stores generally serve younger customers they can get away with this approach. For stores selling better quality, higher priced fashions what they do with their dressing rooms is very important to customers. In our work we have frequently helped clients upgrade their dressing rooms with improved seating, lighting and mirrors. For one store, we helped them increase the size of each dressing room along with… Read more »
M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
6 years 11 months ago
This question never occurred to me. Didn’t know it was an issue. I know my sizes and brand preferences and, I must confess, the only fitting room I’ve used in the last two decades is Nordstrom. But, I’ve had Bob Phibbs experiences even there. Lots of self-service and, frankly, I prefer it that way. I don’t need a teenage girl advising me on khakis. Isn’t it great that the huge preponderance of the items we buy (including apparel) do not require fitting rooms? Maybe that’s part of the thought process by retailers for whom fitting rooms are second thoughts. Consider… Read more »
Bob Phibbs
Guest
6 years 11 months ago

Thanks for everyone chiming in so here’s a question. How come at NRF there is not one word about such topics that could truly grow sales while the drumbeat and breathless adoption of mobile plays on?

Jerry Gelsomino
Guest
6 years 11 months ago
Stores that don’t pay attention to dressing rooms, don’t pay attention to the customer–whether it’s a fashion store or a hardware store. The experience of getting your hands on the product and trying the ‘fit’ is one of the few remaining points of difference between online shopping and a physical store. Why aren’t all retailers exploiting this significant opportunity? Here is Asia, there have been studies done on the slower activity of online shopping of luxury products. Which makes sense! Buying a truly luxury item in Hong Kong for instance, can be a thrilling experience–stacks of sales people at your… Read more »
Marge Laney
Guest
6 years 11 months ago
Bravo Bob and thank you! As an evangelist for fitting room customer service and the purveyor of fitting room technology, I sometimes feel like the lone ranger in my quest to elevate the importance of the fitting room. For the apparel retailer conversion happens in the fitting room, period. So while the other guys can use their front door traffic to measure and track the effectiveness of their in-store service strategy the apparel retailer cannot. Knowing how many people use their fitting rooms, how long they stay, and how often the customer receives service is the only way they can… Read more »
Kai Clarke
Guest
6 years 11 months ago

This is a great example of how customer service, keeping the customer in the store longer, and offering a “try before you buy” incentive through the presence of a dressing room, not only increases customer satisfaction and sales, but also decreases customer returns, since customers will have had the opportunity to confirm that their products are exactly what they want before purchasing them.

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