by Marge Laney
Last week, I was training a group of managers at a large chain retailer to use our fitting room service system we had just installed when one of them asked, “This makes it so much easier for us and better for our customers.
Why isn’t this system everywhere?”
This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked this question, and it always makes me cringe a little bit. And although our customer list includes some pretty impressive retailers, it’s the one question that bothers me because way back in 1995 when we launched I thought the system would become ubiquitous.
What I’ve learned over the years is that this system is not for every retailer with fitting rooms. This system requires a firm commitment to fitting room customer service backed up by a well defined, well executed, and well monitored fitting room service strategy.
Break room posters, marketing slogans, and corporate memos espousing commitment to great service don’t cut it here; I’m talking a top to bottom “how to” strategy for servicing the fitting room customer. So that knocks plenty of retailers out right there.
For those that are good candidates for the system, some will argue that they don’t need service technology because the sales associates are always right there in the fitting room. I’m not exactly sure what that means or how just being “right there” solves the connection problem because there’s still a whole row of closed doors between the customers and the associates.
They fail to see that the problem is not the sales associate’s ability to access the customer in the fitting room; they can knock on the fitting room door anytime! The problem is the customer’s inability to access the sales associate when they need something, a very big difference!
Think about it, when you’re in most fitting rooms you can connect with a friend in another city on your cell phone faster than you can connect with a sales associate ten feet away!
A customer in the fitting room should be given every opportunity to access a sales associate easily because they constitute the best opportunity for a sale. There are only two reasons customers enter fitting rooms…
to make a buying decision, or steal something!
With sales associates in and out of the fitting room area connecting with customers and answering service requests this increases the likelihood that customers will buy and decreases theft.
But when you require your customers to schlep in and out of the fitting room servicing themselves, you run the risk that they will get discouraged and leave rather than take the time to find what they like.
It’s just bad business to leave customers with no easy way to connect.
Our solution is inexpensive, simple to use, and convenient for both the sales associate and the customer. It also provides important data, including individual fitting room load and visit data that when viewed as a subset of store traffic gives insight into service strategy execution.
Monitoring load metrics gives feedback on how successful each store is in reaching load goals which tie directly to conversion.
So why isn’t this system everywhere?
Why is it so hard to convince corporate management that it is not a good idea to lock fitting rooms without giving customers an easy way to connect with a sales associate to open one?
Or to let customers wander into a fitting room unattended and not give them a way to connect with the sales associates when they need something?
Or my personal favorite; arm the sales associates with a great service strategy and require that they become mind readers and door knockers to figure out when their fitting room customers need something!
The Bottom line; the customer is trying to buy why make it difficult?
© Alert Technologies, Inc. 2009
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
by Marge Laney
The consumer has been beaten down and is not in a great mood. Unemployment is at a 30 year high, and experts say the recovery is going to at least start out as a jobless recovery. The US economy is driven by consumer spending and the consumer is not in the mood to spend. Not a good scenario for a quick retail recovery.
Traffic is slow and what’s left of marketing efforts due to budget cuts are hard pressed to lure the list carrying, discount seeking shopper into your stores. The challenge for retail in this environment is to make the most of the people who do come through the door. Your store personnel have no control over the number of people that come into your stores, but they have total control of the experience each customer has once they’re inside. It is in this experience where your associates can give each customer the confidence to buy.
The worst thing you as a retailer can do in the current environment is ignore the customers who have taken the time to come into your store. Leaving them to fend for themselves to locate products, or figure out on their own if a certain product is right for them can leave the customer feeling disrespected and uncared for. These types of interactions definitely do not build loyalty! Creating the confidence to buy is about making connections with each customer that builds trust. That doesn’t mean just greeting them when they walk in or asking them if they found everything they needed when they are checking out. It’s about being available when they have questions, providing information that helps them decide, and making them feel confident and good about buying in general and from you in particular.
The challenge is to have enough well trained associates to make the connections to create this confidence to buy in each customer that comes through your doors. Today’s lean payroll environment has put extra pressure on already thin staffing models. A retailers dream is to have each customer experience one-on-one service throughout their entire shopping trip. But, retailers confuse personal service with one-on-one service. This is not only impossible; it is unnecessary and annoying to most people. Customers want to control the sales associate’s access to them. Did I mention that the customer is time-stressed too? When they want service they want it now!
Creating the confidence to buy means being there when your customer needs something. This is where giving the customer control of their service relationship through service access technology can help. The customer interacts with the service technology and requests help when they need something, not when your associates think they need it. Sales associates are more effective and happier too, because they are interacting and helping customers who want and need their help!
So, in your next conversations about customer service, talk about helping your associates create the confidence to buy in your customers and make sure you give them the technology tools they need to make it happen.
© Alert Technologies, Inc. 2009
by Marge Laney
If you’re a student of retail as I am, you must notice most retailers talking out both sides of their mouths these days. On one side is the constant yammering and hand wringing about the importance of the customer experience. 2009 was heralded as the “Year of the Existing Customer”, in other words; take care of the customers you’ve got because if you’re not taking care of them someone else will…gladly. On the other side there is a constant drumbeat of cutting costs, and in brick and mortar that means payroll. Actions speak louder than words and the winner in this race for attention and budget is; cutting payroll, aka, lean payroll optimization…. in softer, gentler retail speak.
What about the customer, what do they want? Customers, when asked, say that they want to be able to quickly access knowledgeable and friendly service when they want it. The question is; can the customer be served the way they want to be served in a lean payroll environment? These two points of view at first glance seem to be at odds with each other and suggest their inability to co-exist in the same strategy.
Many retail customer service strategies are high touch and focus on the sales associate breaking through barriers and engaging the customer in a meaningful way. These strategies involve following the customer around asking open ended questions and trying to anticipate the customers’ wants and needs. These strategies are often very involved and encourage the associate to delve deep to establish an emotional connection with the customer. The trouble though is that these strategies in the hands of the typical large chain sales associate are either executed poorly or not at all.
These high touch strategies are in fact an attempt by the large chain retailer to act small. Many aspirational apparel retailers want that proprietor feel that small shops and very high end retailers can achieve, especially in the fitting room. But, that’s just not possible. 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. even the best chains are really fighting an uphill battle.
The best way to achieve “acting small” for the large chain apparel retailer is to give the customer a way to access the service the sales associates have been trained to give when they want it. This means giving the customer control of their service connections. Instead of depending on the sales associate to be motivated to engage the customer, let the customer initiate and control the engagement. This raises the level of service for every customer and gives the associates the option of being a call answerer or a sales superstar; but the good news is that customer will never again be ignored.
Seems like a simple solution but many retailers are resistant to access technology. Why? First, they see this as a detriment rather than an enhancer of their personal service strategy. They are fearful that their associates will become dependent on it. In my opinion, access technology can help them “act small” and service customers personally by setting a level of service availability that they cannot fall below. At its lowest level it makes the worst associate a call answerer and may save the sale. At its highest level it gives great associates a way to stack and service multiple customers simultaneously. In the current lean payroll two coverage scenarios being played out in most apparel chain retail today, it just makes sense.
© Alert Technologies, Inc. 2009
by Marge Laney
What is the most important conversion area in apparel retail? Answer: The Fitting Room. What area in brick and mortar apparel is the least serviced? Answer: The Fitting Room.
The “why” of the first question is inherent in the fact that if a customer uses a fitting room they are 71% more likely to buy than if they simply browse the sales floor. Add to that the fact that the customer who uses the fitting room will on average buy twice what the browser buys. And, if they are serviced while in the fitting room they will buy almost three times what the browser buys. Those are some pretty compelling statistics! And, by the way, there is only a 28% chance that the browser will buy anything. And we’re not going to even talk about what browsers buy and then return because of fit issues.
So that leaves the “why” of the second fact. Why is the fitting room area so underserviced? First of all, many retailers will say that that just simply is not true. They have created elaborate fitting room service strategies aimed at all the right targets: improved customer experience, increased conversion, increased ADS, and UPT’s. Other retailers seem to be oblivious of the importance of the fitting room and view it instead as a necessary evil and a loss prevention nightmare. They view all customers as potential thieves and run their fitting rooms accordingly.
The customer, however, views it from a very different perspective. Their fitting room experience begins and ends from inside the fitting room walls. That experience can run the gamut from a very luxurious and pampered experience to an experience that is demeaning and filthy. But, no matter where the retailer falls on the continuum, one thing is true in most fitting rooms: the customer has no hassle-free dignified way to contact and connect with the sales associate once they are inside.
Let’s first look at the retailer that has a great service strategy for the fitting room. They have trained their associates to drive traffic to the fitting room, they have weekly wardrobing classes that train associates to help their customer find the right outfit for any occasion, and they have created talking points to help associates establish a connection with the shopper and to bring out 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 hopefully at the moment the customer is in need of service. Hope, in this case, is a lousy strategy.
I often hear from retailers that they view access technology as a barrier to personalized service. I simply don’t understand that logic. Door knocking is less than 2% 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.
Another thing I often hear from retailers is “Prove to me that giving the customer access to service from the fitting will help us sell more.” Here’s a stat for you: 97% of all customers have redressed and left a store without taking the time to find the right size or color of an item they wanted to buy. No matter what your philosophy on fitting rooms, that statistic is a direct result of lack of customer access to service, and has direct and negative impact on the bottom line.
So the next time you review your fitting room customer service strategy ask yourself this; How will our fitting room customer access our great service once inside the fitting room? And, can we afford it?
© Alert Technologies, Inc. 2009
by Marge Laney
I just re-read the late Peter Glenn’s book, “It’s Not My Department.” What a hoot. The book was written and published in the late ‘80’s, and is a litany of service faux pas and customer apathy. He called us a “nation of whiners”; that we try to top each other’s horror stories of service, and our national anthem is “It’s Not My Department.” He said that we needed to stop whining and start fighting. He also said, “Service is the hottest subject in business right now, but most of the service is lip service, not customer service.” That was twenty years ago, and it’s still the hottest subject in business right now…
Two things have changed during those twenty years; the infiltration of service technology, and the smiley face. Lousy service was and still is the service provider’s way of saying No and in the past was emphasized with shrugs, sneers, snips, and snubs. Today the shrugs, sneers, snips, and snubs have been replaced with the smiley face. You still get the same lousy service they just smile while they’re saying it and tell you to “have a nice day” when they’re finished.
And while computerized service technology was in its infancy back in the late 80’s and was the cause of a lot of bad service experiences, the bugs have been worked out to a great extent but the service failures still abound. I just switched from one very large bank to a smaller local bank. I was tired of being submerged into automated telephone answering hell every time I had a question about a transaction. I especially hated the cheery voice recognition fellow that attempted to change my mind about what I was looking for. I often found myself screaming “No, that’s not what I mean, you _______!” into the phone. He always said he was sorry, but I didn’t believe it!
Anyway, I was worried that it might be risky changing to a local bank because I do most of my banking online and although I really like the face to face people connection when I go to the bank, I wondered how this might translate to their online experience. My worries were justified, but for a surprisingly different reason. When I called in I actually got a live person. The problem, however, was that the person on the other end of the phone was a throwback to the 80’s; sneery, snippy, and snubby, all the while telling me “No!” She did, however, tell me to “Have a nice day”J. I’d rather talk to a machine.
© Alert Technologies, Inc.
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.