Chain Store Age: Fitting Room Blues

Discussion
May 07, 2007

By Marianne Wilson

Through a special arrangement, what follows is an excerpt of a current article from Chain Store Age Magazine, presented here for discussion (www.chainstoreage.com)

I keep reading about how retailers are upgrading their fitting rooms, making the individual stalls larger and adding all sorts of enhancements. But the reality doesn’t live up to the hype, at least not yet. We still have a long way to go before such features are standard.

I say this based on a recent weekend of intense shopping for the item that probably inspires more anxiety among women than any other single article of clothing: a swimsuit. I visited lots of stores (mostly mid-market ones), stood nearly naked in lots of fitting rooms. And here’s what I found:

  • Too many fitting rooms are cramped, dreary and ill-kept, with piles of discarded garments left over by previous shoppers. And while I’m not choosy about carpet style, standing barefooted on a dirty, stained carpet is another matter entirely. It’s a major turn-off. Customers deserve a clean floor.
  • Overhead fluorescent lighting, still all too common in fitting rooms, is harsh and unflattering. Adding some lighting directly to the mirror to reduce the shadows cast by overhead lamps can do wonders. Other complaints: single-view mirrors and not enough hooks. In several stores I visited, the dressing rooms were so chilly as to be downright uncomfortable, particularly for trying on swimwear.

Despite my glum assessment, I do think some retailers are waking up to the crucial role fitting rooms play in the shopping experience. Following Macy’s example, J.C. Penney has debuted fitting rooms that are large enough to accommodate strollers or groups of friends and include tastefully appointed lounge areas with flat-screen televisions. The try-on rooms in some of its new lingerie departments are almost sexy: purple from ceiling to carpet with curtains dramatically draped over framed mirrors. Plush stools replace the standard Formica benches.

At Martin + Osa, the new concept from American Eagle Outfitters, the fitting rooms are deep and roomy, with cypress wood walls and flattering light. A nature scene dances on frosted glass behind the floor-to-ceiling mirrors. At Metropark, customers watch music videos on LCD monitors while trying on clothes.

Such innovations make trying on clothes more fun, and can also give a retailer a competitive edge. But they are still the exception.

The problem with fitting rooms is twofold. One, is that while retailers have shown themselves willing to invest in design upgrades in new prototypes and new concepts, bringing the changes down to a fleet of existing locations often gets left on the back burner. (Macy’s is an exception.) Two, fitting rooms require dedicated upkeep. Even the most well-appointed spaces will suffer if they are not properly maintained. Target’s fitting rooms may be utilitarian, but they are almost always clean and free of discarded goods.

It’s often said that women make the decision to purchase clothes in the fitting room. The other side of the coin is that women make the decision not to purchase clothes in the fitting room, as well. And that was the case with me on my recent swimsuit expedition. Tired and cranky, I went home empty-handed. It’s almost enough for a Jersey-shore-loving gal to give up the beach. But just almost.

Discussion Questions: Why are fitting rooms still a problem for so many stores? If it’s a cost issue, what basic features do women now expect to find in dressing rooms that might be different than in the past?

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12 Comments on "Chain Store Age: Fitting Room Blues"


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Laura Davis-Taylor
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Laura Davis-Taylor
15 years 11 days ago

I have no idea why this is so often overlooked but I can say that it’s a serious issue. Maybe it’s because men don’t have some of the heartburn women have in not only finding the right fit but in feeling good about what we see in the mirror! Personally, I feel that part of the issue is that it’s difficult to attach a tangible, measurable ROI to the expenditures associated with higher cost dressing rooms (and their upkeep). However, similar to bathroom and customer service challenges, most retailers have no clue what is lost from overlooking the impact of a bad dressing room experience.

This is a simple, common sense answer: when women enjoy the dressing room experience, they’re likely to go to the store more often, stay there longer and buy more. In the meantime, I’ll be one of the women pining away for more retailers to care (and at the very least get that horrible lighting removed!)

Connie Kski
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Connie Kski
15 years 11 days ago

It’s not on the list–but better mirrors would help! Please, no “fat mirrors”! Also, better carpet, cleaner rooms, more welcoming and larger fitting rooms.

Dick Seesel
Guest
15 years 11 days ago

The fitting-room issue is similar to the issue of improved rest rooms that came up for discussion a while ago. These are both less visible (but very meaningful) ways to tell the customer that her store experience goes beyond uncluttered aisles and fast checkout. It’s telling that about half of Kohl’s new openings last fall included upgraded fitting rooms as part of the store design; according to the company’s press releases, the customer response has been so positive that all future openings and remodels will incorporate these changes. “Invisible” changes affect where the consumer chooses to spend her dollars.

Jason Friedman
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Jason Friedman
15 years 11 days ago

Why are fitting rooms still a problem for many stores? It’s because the powers that be at these stores don’t fully embrace “customer experience.” If they did, they’d realize that “experience” doesn’t begin and end with the selling floor. Experience is an encompassing concept. It affects every part of a business.

If you want a successful store, you can’t arbitrarily decide which parts of your experience are important and which aren’t. You have to see things through your customers’ eyes, and then do all you can to make it fit their preferences. If the customer thinks it’s important, it’s important.

Toni Rahlf
Guest
Toni Rahlf
15 years 11 days ago

This topic seems akin to the grocery store restroom topic from weeks ago. The stores that invest in this area send a message to consumers that they care about the shopping experience and that they know what matters to their clientele.

In my opinion, the top two issues are dedicated upkeep (which would solve the dirty floor issue) and lighting. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve visited a fitting room so full of cast-offs from previous shoppers that I had nowhere to set my things, so I left empty handed. Additionally, the right lighting can even make the Formica walls seem more upscale, and improve on the flattery factor. I understand that improving existing fitting rooms often is an investment not made, but these are two easy things to do that could make a world of difference. Besides, dramatic decor is worth nothing if the rooms are poorly lit and unkempt.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
15 years 11 days ago

The upkeep problems should, all by themselves, tell retailers that they have a problem. Why are so many women leaving so many items behind?

Unlike Marianne, my recent experience buying a swimsuit was astonishingly easy. Unfortunately for her, I suppose Marks & Spencer would be too far from the Jersey shore to be practical. BUT, for someone who hasn’t dared purchase this item for more years than I care to admit, I was spoiled for choice and used a clean, comfortable changing room complete with call button so I could summon a saleswoman if necessary to change the suits I was finished with for alternatives without having to get dressed and undressed again, another thing that I have always found so offputting that if I didn’t find what I wanted the first time, my reaction was to get out as quickly as I could.

Karin Miller
Guest
Karin Miller
15 years 11 days ago

I will add another complaint to the list: the procedure one has to go through to actually get INSIDE a fitting room. Even where there is not a line, the fitting rooms are often locked, so an associate with a key has to be found. Then there is the garment counting process, the reduction process (if you have too many items) and then the trading back and forth as items are eliminated and new items are tried on. This can become very tedious….

When I was in high school I worked at TH Mandy, a women’s sportswear store (no longer in business) that assigned associates specifically to service the customers in the fitting room (called “runners”), suggesting other items and switching out sizes. They kept track of our “dressing room averages” (average sale for the time assigned to the fitting room).

The fitting room experience is definitely an opportunity for retailers to close (or lose) the sale….

Steven Roelofs
Guest
Steven Roelofs
15 years 11 days ago

It’s still a problem because, um, women make it so? Why take so many items into the fitting room? And why leave them on the floor when done? I take no more than 3 items in with me and always take them and put them back where I found them when I’m done. It’s kind of like bus riders who complain about dirty buses, but where do all those newspapers and coffee cups come from?

Todd Belveal
Guest
Todd Belveal
15 years 10 days ago

Any strong sales associate knows that if you get a customer to the fitting room, the chances of closing a sale go up dramatically. My sense is that this is less about features women expect in fitting rooms, but more about a lack of innovation overall. It is well past time to rethink this part of the shopping experience, and it is gratifying to see a few leading retailers doing so.

Amy Johnson
Guest
Amy Johnson
15 years 10 days ago

I so agree with “sroefls” comment. I have worked on the store side of retail for years. It amazes me the number of people that just throw their clothes on the floor. I can’t imagine what their homes must look like.

Patricia Robak
Guest
Patricia Robak
15 years 9 days ago

Another important aspect of the customer’s fitting room experience is PRIVACY.

In the upscale shopping center (oops, I mean “destination shops”) where I work, there are two women’s apparel stores which have NO MIRRORS in their individual fitting rooms–and the fitting rooms are situated right smack in the centers of those stores.

This means that when a customer wants to view herself in an outfit, she has to venture outside of her fitting room, drawing attention and subjecting herself to the evaluational gazes of the sales associates as well as any other people on the floor–other shoppers, guys, teenagers, repair personnel, the FedEx delivery person, etc.

Poor, insensitive planning, if you ask me.

Fortunately my store has a long, recessed corridor of carpeted, mirrored fitting rooms at the rear, so there’s ample privacy…but we still could use HOOKS (for purses, coats, etc.) in each room. There are only bars for our items on hangers.

Do retail architects ever actually consult real customers and real sales associates?

Tanja Smith
Guest
Tanja Smith
12 years 10 months ago

This is a great article. I myself have recently had new changing rooms fitted in our store because of some of the issues that were mentioned above. We had a few complaints about the fitting rooms being too ‘old fashioned’. After long debates with the staff, family, and friends, I made the decision to give those run down looking rooms a re-vamp. My customers noticed the change straight away and I got a lot of positive feedback since! I must admit it took me a while to see that those changes were needed and money had to be invested but I’m glad I did listen to my customers at the end when they weren’t happy and had a changing room make-over. I think most store owners should take this into consideration and make sure that trying clothes in their store should be made a great and enjoyable experience!

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