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Posts from the ‘Lean Payroll’ Category


Why Retail Fitting Rooms Are Awful & What To Do About Yours

by Marge Laney

Fitting rooms and their service, as well as how to outfit and staff them, are passions of mine.

That’s why I was excited to be included in the article in the Wall Street Journal about fitting rooms yesterday.

As I was reading the story though, I had to re-check the date at the top of the page because it sure sounded like it was 1995 all over again. The writer focused once again on why making fitting rooms productive is so elusive for the brick and mortar apparel retailers. 

Why is keeping the dressing room area free of dirt and dust too much for some, while others think a laser focus on tweaking paint colors, adding couches and posters will ‘seduce’ customers?  All under the misnomer of service

Why wasn’t the importance of the fitting room in relation to sales and other performance metrics the true story in the WSJ rather than an episode of HGTV for dressing room chic? 

Should making the fitting room area inviting and clean be a priority?  Absolutely! 

Will making the fitting room area inviting and clean sell merchandise? Absolutely not! Yes the design aesthetics of the fitting room should complement the rest of the store, but chandeliers don’t sell!

 Our studies at Alert Technologies show that guys don’t use fitting rooms when they know they can’t get service. But when you give a guy a sales associate feeding them clothes in the fitting room – they’ll stay there for hours. 

Better yet, give a guy a call button to call an associate to help with sizes, colors, or just an opinion and they’ll use it often and without invitation! The men’s clothing segment is the fastest growing segment in 2011.  Are you really going to use 1995 thinking to capture them? No!

The problem for most retailers in their pursuit of excellence in the fitting room is that either no one in their organization owns the fitting room experience, or it’s owned by the store designers.

Let me make this clear: Design is not service

Nobody’s paycheck depends on how well their fitting room strategy performs.

It’s nobody’s job to buy fitting room technology.

No one really knows what percent of their store traffic uses the fitting room. Or how long the typical customer stays. Or how many times they’ve received service.  And why is that?

It’s nobody’s job to know. Hence…


According to Envision Retail in the WSJ article:

  • Customers who try on clothes in fitting rooms have a conversion rate of 67%.
  • Customers who don’t use the fitting rooms have only a 10% conversion rate.
  • Shoppers who use the fitting rooms spend a third of their in-store time there.

Driving customers to the fitting room and keeping them there with service and selling strategies should be job one for associates.

Hoping that customers wander in because the poster on the wall encourages them, or the lounge chairs offer a comfortable rest stop for hubby, is a lousy strategy. 

Look I get it, payrolls are stressed. But with the right payroll allocation and technology that helps with the control and service of the fitting room area, it can be done.

Brick-and-mortar is stuck. Technology that supports the fitting room experience is practically non-existent – that must change. And that’s why our company does what it does with technology and training.

Please stop calling store design customer service

Let’s make someone’s paycheck depend on how good the fitting room service strategy is. And how well it’s executed.

Embrace your fitting rooms as a conversion tool, because if you don’t a competitor will.

Marge Laney is President of Alert Technologies, a technology manufacturer and consultancy that is focused on customer facing service technology for retail.  Call her to discuss your fitting room needs at 281-326-9900.


Retail Margin 101: Grow It or Kill It

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.


Holiday ’09… Will You Just Survive or Thrive?

by Marge Laney 

As a news junkie, blogger, tweeter, and purveyor of retail customer service technology I view the retail industry from several vantage points.  Usually, there is a common thread that runs through all news and commentary about our industry with a twist here or an opinion there but most are supported by cold hard facts.  This latest period of time, however, which seems like the past year or so, there is a different vibe running through the media and commentary which appears to depend on what agenda is being promoted, and the facts massaged to prove points. This agenda driven dialogue has been harmful and weighs on the consumer making them feel confused, nervous, and as a by-product unwilling to spend their money freely.

On one side of the commentary the news is very bad and our lot is not likely to improve much in the foreseeable future and will, in fact, probably get worse.  On the other side is the argument that things are getting better and the economy is going to take off like a rocket at any moment.  Mixed into all of this are pretty anemic economic data and high unemployment, but on the flip side a stock market that appears to be trying to gin up a bull run. All of this turmoil has conspired to put the consumer on edge and paralyze retailers.

And that brings us to Holiday ’09.  It has been opined that the consumer has had it and is ready to splurge.  To throw caution to the wind and spend, spend, spend. Others wave statistics that point to the exact opposite scenario.  But some say, no matter what the consumer appetite is for spending, don’t expect them to want anything but essentials and basics and they will only buy if the discounts are deep.  Others think that the consumer has all the basics and is looking for trendy, exciting product and will pay the price if they perceive the value.  Luxury is out in some camps, but it’s in, in others.  Discounters will save the day some say, while others see the mid-tier and upscale retailers being the winners if they can entice the customer with a convincing value proposition and a great customer experience.  Online is the only way, some say, to save gas and sales tax, while the in-store experience is what will make the difference between winning and losing for others.

How will the retailer react to all of this confusion? For the most part it seems like they are going to just play it safe, and can we really blame them?  Inventories are being cut and payroll slashed.  I did hear today that the profit end of things will probably be the bright spot as with so little on the shelves markdowns will be very limited.  Selections will be limited, color pallets safe, and self service will truly be the only customer service.  Blah Humbug!

In the final analysis, however, there will be a few retailers who will have tuned out the conflicting news and opinions and looked instead to their customers for direction. They will have set aside the analyst’s estimates and the pundit’s predictions.  They will have dusted off and pored over their customer comment cards, secret shops, and customer experience surveys.  They will have analyzed, talked, and most important listened to their customers that frequent their stores on a daily basis, and from this they will base their holiday plan on what their customers are telling them they really want.  If their customers tell them to stack it deep and sell it cheap, they will.  If their customers tell them they want trendy fashion forward styles served up with great customer service, they will chose the right product and staff their stores to service their customers well.  It will take a strong will and a lot of Pepto to run against the tide, but in the end those that listened to their customers will win and win big and not just survive, but thrive.

© Alert Technologies, Inc. 2009