On a recent shopping trip to a well-known fast fashion retailer I decided to try-on a few things. Since fitting rooms are my thing I always approach the fitting room area with great anticipation. I have a mental checklist that I work through as I proceed through the fitting room process.
Upon entering the fitting room area I was pleased to be greeted by a smiling attendant. The area was large so it was easy to maneuver around other customers on the way to an open fitting room. Unfortunately that was pretty much the end of my good experience.
Upon entering my fitting room I was blinded by a glaring overhead light and even though there was a lot of light, I could barely see. As I hung my clothes up I realized that the fitting room was painted jet black! I found that pretty peculiar, but not until I tried on the first outfit did I realize how bad an idea it really was.
I’m not a designer, an artist, or anyone who understands color, but I can tell you that a black fitting room does nothing to help me, a customer, look good. It seemed to absorb the light and made it hard to see myself in the mirror and what I did see wasn’t good! It created shadows that made me look sallow and it was impossible to see what the outfits really looked like. My buying decisions were; no, no, and no. When I left the fitting room I noticed other shoppers making the same decision and piling their rejected items on the table in front of the smiling fitting room attendant.
The sad thing about it is that some designer thought that painting the entire fitting room area black was a really great idea! The fitting room color was edgy, hip, and cool, but it didn’t make their customers look edgy, hip, and cool. It made me look scary, weird, and very uncool. And there’s the problem, the customer is often left out of the decision process when it comes to fitting room design.
Professional designers do know the ins and outs of color and how it makes people look and feel. Shame on them for choosing fitting room colors that don’t keep the customer and their experience at the front of the design process. Funky and edgy colors may make your fitting rooms look fabulous, but make sure they make your customers look fabulous while they’re making their buying decisions. Ultimately, the customers do get the final say when they reject the retailers offering because of how it makes them look. But is the fitting room experience ever rightfully blamed by the retailer or other experts? I don’t think so.
I’m often asked what constitutes a good fitting room from a customer point of view that would take into consideration things like size, color, and environment. This is the first in a series of blogs on what I think about each element of fitting room design and the impact each has on the overall customer experience in the fitting room.
First up is size. Size matters! Unfortunately, there is no standard size fitting room. Sizes range from a box about the size of a phone booth (remember those?) which are so small they make you lean up against the door when trying on, or the curtained ones that your butt pokes out as your balancing on one foot, to eerily large rooms that make you feel isolated and deserted.
Last there are the ‘gang fitting rooms’ that are so horrible they should be illegal. There is nothing worse than standing half naked in a fitting room bay full of other half naked women pretending that the other one doesn’t exist and no one’s looking.
What appears to dictate size is the type of retailer. Discounters are generally tiny, and the size usually grows with the price tags – but not always. Some architects try to jam as many fitting rooms as possible into the designated fitting room area without much thought about function or consistency of size. Even within the same fitting room bank the rooms can vary significantly.
What constitutes a good sized fitting room? It should be large enough to fit your customer and a reasonable amount of their stuff (purse & shopping bags), and something to put their stuff on, to sit on, and to lay their clothes on while they are trying on their selections. People need room to take off their clothes and put yours on comfortably. If you offer ‘big & tall’ items, be sure your fitting rooms can accommodate a ‘big & tall’ customer!
It should also be large enough so that when they have successfully undressed and are attempting to make a decision about what to buy; they have enough room to look into the mirror from a reasonable distance and see themselves. This will not only make them feel more comfortable, it will also help them make their buying decision final in the store instead of taking the items home and trying them on to make their decision.
If you don’t make your fitting rooms fit for your customers, they’ll work around them by taking their selections home to try and buy. And there’s the rub, taking items home increases returns, kills margin, and destroy comps.
So the next time you think about redoing your fitting room, remember, size does matter!
by Marge Laney
Back in 2003 Envision Retail published research that confirmed –
“The fitting room customer is 71% likely to buy versus the customer who browses the sales floor at 28%”. They further declared that this proved that getting customers into the fitting room was good for business.
Recently, Envision updated this statistic and now states –
“Conversion of customers in the fitting rooms is 67% compared to those who do not use the fitting rooms of only 10%, making the fitting rooms the most commercially valuable space in the store”!
There has been an 18% decrease in the likelihood of the browser buying from 2003 to today!
That’s significant! And begs the question; Why?
Could it be lack of traffic?
Overall traffic has trended down over the period of time, but I don’t believe that would impact the likelihood of purchase once inside the store.
I believe the reason is the internet.
Consumers no longer need to leave the comfort of their home to browse and purchase. Free shipping and easy return policies make shopping a breeze if there is no immediate need for the product.
This isn’t all bad and it’s definitely not going to change. Retailers need to be where their customers are. Smart phones and all the mobile technology have expanded shopping opportunities and changed the retail landscape beyond recognition.
Consumers access information and purchase products in different ways depending on their location and need. It is essential for successful retailers to understand who their customers are and how they choose to interact with their brand and make it easy.
The important take away for the brick and mortar apparel retailer is that even though the browser is shopping in a different way, the customer who uses the fitting room is not.
Fitting rooms and those customers who use them, are the reason they will continue to exist.
Customers who traditionally visit stores, buy without trying on, and return what doesn’t fit are abandoning this shopping routine in favor of online shopping from home.
The 2011 customer who makes the trip to the mall is a more committed customer, and they are there to buy.
While creating and implementing a memorable fitting room service experience may not be sexy or cutting edge, it will sell merchandise, which is the point. Isn’t it?
by Marge Laney
The last chapter is closing on Holiday 2010 with the release of the January retail sales figures. It was pretty much as we all expected, maybe a little stronger than some had guessed, but overall pretty good for most retailers.
Limited Brands, however, blew it out with strong comps and margin improvement throughout the season. Ending it up with their January performance off the charts with a 24% comp increase company wide, and Victoria’s Secret turning in a 35% comp increase (up against a 17% increase in January 2009); no small feat.
The analysts credit their success to the right product at the right price.
I agree that having compelling product that is priced correctly is crucial, but I think that’s far from the whole story of their success. Nor can their remarkable increase be credited only to a mobile app, kiosk, or discounts (their semi-annual sale took place in January) although they utilize all of these.
What I believe separates them by such a wide margin from the rest of the apparel retail pack is that they wrap all of those right moves they make in product, pricing, and marketing in an in-store experience that is personal, efficient, and consistent across the brand.
When you walk into a Victoria’s Secret you are met by sales associates who know the product and are trained and managed to service their customers from the moment they enter the store to the moment they leave.
On the sales floor they engage with each customer and encourage a fitting room visit where their specialists take over and provide an attentive, knowledgeable experience which in many cases results in a purchase. The cash wrap experience is efficient and appreciative.
Some apparel retailers say that selling underwear warrants special attention and fitting room service, therefore the model doesn’t apply to them. I say baloney! For non-apparel retailers door traffic and sales floor engagement are where the action is. The sales floor is where their customers “try-on” their products and the buying decision is made.
But, for the apparel retailer fitting room traffic and fitting room engagement is where their opportunities lie. The customer who uses the fitting room is 67% likely to buy, versus the customer who shops the sales floor at 10%.
Engaging the customer on the sales floor, driving them to the fitting room, and servicing them efficiently and knowledgeably in the fitting room should be in every apparel retailer’s playbook. For the apparel retailer conversion takes place in the fitting room!
The secret of Victoria’s Secret success is no secret. Simply put, they understand that an in-store experience wrapped in knowledgeable personal service may not be the newest or sexiest strategy, but without it they become just another retailer relying on discounts and gimmicks which ultimately commoditize their products and render their brand forgettable.
Lot’s of retailers sell sexy underwear, but with more than 50% of the market in North America, and unparralled growth Victoria’s Secret is unforgettably the brand to emulate or ignore at your own peril.
by Marge Laney
One of the sessions that I attended at the NRF convention in New York this past week was conducted by McMillan Doolittle where they unveiled their “8 C’s Model of Customer Experience.” The model included: Clarity, Convenience, Choice, Communication, Cast, Control, Consistency and Connection.
This is a great list, but I can’t think of one chain brick and mortar retailer that gets it all right on a consistent basis. But, I’m not going to focus on consistency as I think the biggest challenge is cast and connection. It’s relatively easy for the chain retailer to get the other 6 of the 8 C’s right through the use of technology, but getting the people, training, and connecting with customers in a meaningful way takes more than a mobile app or a twitter account.
Technology whose goal is to encourage and enhance personal customer service in the brick & mortar store was nearly non-existent on the show floor. Which begs the question, when you need to deploy a great cast and connect with the customer who makes the effort to visit your stores, is technology the answer? For the most part, I think not. The Container Store was noted as an example of a chain that executes cast well, and I agree. They also do a fabulous job connecting with their customers in their stores. I will tell you that they spend a lot of time and money on selection, training, and creating an environment that encourages personal growth of each employee. Sound a little Kumbayah? Maybe, but when you walk into one of their stores you don’t need a mobile app or an augmented reality android to find out about a product or service. You get a real person who knows the products well and can help you with your particular storage problem. Sounds so last century, but it’s what their customers expect. What’s really interesting is that they sell commodity product at a premium that can be bought from Walmart or any other discounter, but they’re doing well and growing.
So instead of spending on sexy tech solutions that ex out the associate and promise to be the silver bullet, brick & mortar needs to invest in their people and technologies that help them create a differentiated experience, build customer loyalty, and most important, sell more product.
by Marge Laney
The word on everyone’s lips today in retail is margin. From the gurus on Wall Street, to the management teams steering the ships of big retail, everyone’s preaching, ‘Enough with the cuts already!’ ‘We need top line growth and margin improvement!’ So why is it when I walk my local mall and enter almost any store I’m greeted with “Hi, welcome to fill-in-the-blank! Check out our buy-one, get-one stuff and our 40% off whatever!” Or my favorite, “…we just did a whole bunch of new markdowns, come check them out!”
I’m not speaking to discount self service retail here. They know who they are and they pay for their service model with margin. I’m talking about the retailers who preach that they do put customer service first and attempt to provide personal service to their customers in the name of adding value which translates to higher margin.
I did a training recently and had the opportunity to ask the sales associates what margin was. Not one of them had a clue, but they all were aware that it was something that they needed to improve. For those of you who don’t know, margin is profit. Markdown’s destroy profit and eat up payroll that could and should be allocated to customer facing time to sell merchandise when it is fresh instead of sucking up that payroll on processing markdowns. Sure, margin can be boosted by cutting SG&A (read payroll), but retail is pretty much done with that. They’ve rung all the available fat out of their P&L for the most part.
The funny thing is that everybody in these organizations knows that the customer should come first and that the sales associate time is better spent connecting with the customer and selling. So why don’t they just do it? There are a million reasons why most don’t and they all make sense to somebody, but a couple of retailers are doing it and reaping the benefits. One of them is J. Crew. Mickey Drexler, CEO of J. Crew, is quoted in a recent WWD Article and gives insight into their formula for success; “We are and will continue to be focused on our mission — to innovate in our design, style, quality and customer service and to invest in our business, our associates and our customers for the long term…” J. Crew posted strong first quarter results with net income and gross margin up significantly across the board. J. Crew associates are true brand advocates; they connect with their customers personally to provide service and sell, they don’t task.
I challenge all retailers who preach margin growth to put their in-store customer service strategies and their payroll allocation where their mouth is and provide the customer with the service and experience they advertise. Select your front-line associates based on their ability not their availability, train them to be the knowledgeable brand advocates that deliver your message to every customer, give them standards and goals and monitor them, and offer tangible rewards for success. And above all let them do the job you hired them to do – deliver the brand promise personally, and hire other non-sales people to process shipments, execute plan-o-grams, clean, and process a lot fewer markdowns.
Fitting Room Call Buttons and Occupancy a hot topic at National Retail Federation Retail’s BIG Show in NYC
Alert Technologies would like to thank all of the terrific retailers, attendees, consultants, and sponsors that joined us at our booth at Retail’s BIG Show 2009 in New York City! We are excited to see the strong movement towards enhanced fitting room customer service and enhanced fitting room area awareness.
On display at the show was our newest fitting room occupancy system which marks occupied fitting rooms as well as fitting rooms in need of clearing. The system also allows retailers to finally know exactly how much time their customers are spending in the most powerful sales area in their stores, the fitting rooms!
Staffing was a common topic among all retailers this year at the BIG Show. Many of the executives discussed their need for leaner staffing while still making vital connections with customers. We are proud to have a solution that allows their in-store teams to optimize their customer service while reducing off peak staffing. One of the great quotes I heard from a retailer was “…it’s such a simple system, but the implications are huge.” They were dead on. Whether it’s an extremely busy holiday weekend, or a surprise power hour in the middle of the week, the Alert Technologies Real Time System allows the store to serve more customers more effectively and increase KPIs.
The Alert Tech booth also hosted the Digiop team as we move towards our vision of unified counting, customer service, and security for specialty apparel retail. Not only does Digiop’s Visual Analytics fit in as the “eyes of the store” but in conjunction with the Alert Technologies system it allows real time alerts on the floor when there has been a sudden surge in customers, or if a queue is forming outside the fitting room area. “This is going to be a major step forward in large retailer’s ability to execute their strategies across all of their stores “ said Marge Laney President of Alert “If a retailer feels that a surge of customers entering the store at the same time is best handled by changing coverage or emphasizing fitting room use, this is a way for them to ensure that is happening in all of their stores.”
2009 is poised to be a great year for Alert Technologies and regardless of the negative forecasts for the retail sector there will be those who take this opportunity to connect with their customers show them real value for their shopping dollar. Those retailers will be the ones gaining market share and differentiating their brands in this passing economic environment.
Please contact us with any questions you may have about our system! We can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 800-366-8742.
“Retailers often confuse customer service with one-on-one personal attention. In fact, the more innovative the program, adding quicker customer service technologies, the more likely a customer is to remember and revisit a store.” – Store Manager, Victoria’s Secret, NYC
Everyone’s been there. You’re cold, half-naked and alone, and you’re wondering where your clothes are. You step outside in search of solace to find three other partially-dressed women in the same predicament. Sound like a nightmare? Unfortunately, it’s a reality, and it’s happening in retail store fitting rooms every single day.
Shopping just shouldn’t be this hard or this scary. All we’re asking for is a little customer service and one size bigger in the jeans with the gold stitching on the back pocket. Instead, we’re forced to leave the jeans undone, put our sweater on backward and sprint around the store barefoot, or resign ourselves to the more likely scenario – calling this shopping trip a loss and leaving empty-handed.
Frankly, it’s time all the self-respecting shoppers took a stand against fitting room abuse. For an industry that prides itself on forward thinking and cutting-edge ideas, there is no reason we should have to put up with this any longer. The worst part is, there is a solution to our problem, and it’s been around since 1996. So why are we still subjecting ourselves to this?
Get turned on…
Bringing the retail experience into the 21st century one store at a time, Alert Technologies pioneer, shopping enthusiast and pro-fitting room service activist, Marge Laney, has already had success with Victoria’s Secret, American Eagle and Gap.
Her system is specifically designed for each store, but with you (the customer) in mind. Just imagine: You’re trying on a dress, and it doesn’t zip, leaving you, well… indecent. You press a button from INSIDE your room, and the associate is notified you need help. You don’t have to open the door and expose yourself, and you don’t have to wait. Plus, you won’t get bothered with that startling rap at the door when you don’t need help – like when you haven’t even had time to take your shoes off.
It’s time to demand an upgrade. It’s simple. If stores don’t turn you on, they turn you off.
Coming to a Retailer near You . . .
The Limited and Victoria’s Secret have something new in common! Coming in mid-November the The Limited’s new concept store in Polaris Fashion Place, in Columbus, OH and the new Victoria’s Secret Flagship at 58th and Lexington Ave. in NYC will roll-out the new Smart Button Fitting Room Occupancy technology by Alert Technologies!
At Alert Technologies we have pioneered technologies to help connect the most important people in your store – your customers – to the associates that are there to help them. We are continuing our development of transformational technologies with the roll-out of the Smart Button Fitting Room Occupancy System for fitting rooms.
Using advanced sensor technology as well as cutting edge programming, we are able to determine the amount of time customers spend in your fitting rooms. This information can be provided, at any interval, to store managers and corporate leadership and used as a performance indicator, as well as a store planning tool. The system delivers fitting room occupancy data by fitting room by hour. There is no doubt that customers who are visiting the fitting room are far more likely to be converted than the customers that merely browse. Now, using our occupancy detection and reporting system, selling initiatives can be implemented to optimize the customers you have in your store and improve margins.
The Smart Button Occupancy system doesn’t stop at giving more visibility of the in-store operation to management. It also provides associates with a valuable tool for handling a chaotic area of the store. The fitting room area often leaves associates uncertain, constantly wondering which fitting room is occupied, which has not been cleared of merchandise, and who needs assistance. The Smart Button Occupancy system eliminates the confusion and replaces it with an easily understood “at a glance” status report of the entire fitting room area. Each fitting room shows that it is occupied, vacant or occupied in need of assistance. Not only are your associates able to provide skillful service to more of your customers, but they are left feeling more satisfied in their ability to handle that busy fitting room area. Plus, customers are happier too!
Alert Technologies offers products that are hardened “real tech.” Our systems stand tall in some of the world’s largest retailers and perform flawlessly for decades without missing a beat. Any system we create is customized to fit each individual retailers needs. Customers are demanding real customer service, and retailers are looking to make staffing more effective. Alert Technologies products improve Customer Experience Scores, UPT’s, and ADS, and provide your associate’s tools that help them give the service your customers demand and provide them greater job satisfaction.
For more information about the Smart Button Occupancy System or other Alert Technologies products, please contact us at 800.366.8742.