…the future of retail

Sufferers are short with retail assistants, abandon clothes untried and even storm out of the retail shop…

Apparently women in their 30’s are most likely to rage at the unsatisfactory space allocated for trying on clothes (72%). The study, commissioned by isme, found that fully 75% of women are so fed-up with cramped, cluttered and exposed fitting rooms that they’ve stopped trying clothes on altogether, and 60% of women admit to angrily leaving garments on the nearest rail rather than endure changing cubicle. This is surprising given that according to separate research, 71% of those who try clothes on buy (according to London consultancy Envision Retail), as opposed to just 10% of those who do not try the clothes on in store. And retailers widely acknowledge the importance of the changing room experience. Therefore, stores need to really step up their game in respect of dressing rooms, because that is where the emotion happens with a product. A display can make you fall in love with something, but when a shopper can try it on, in a beautifully furnished and well lit space, then they fall in love with the item on themselves.

Stores need to be designed in a way that features the changing room as the focus of the experience – and added value services are being provided to shoppers as they make their way through their purchase paths. Yet when asked about their emotional state upon visiting a high street changing room, 58% of women expressed feeling disappointed in, and 48% feeling frustrated with, their experience. The major changing room gripes highlighted include curtains that don’t shut properly (55%), long queues (41%), no hooks to hang own clothes on (41%) and not enough space (40%). Other top ten gripes include ‘poor lighting’. But this is a good example of how a seemingly simple expectation by customers may not be all that it seems… While studies have examined lighting on the sales floor, there is very little data on the effects it has on shoppers in dressing rooms.

A recent study by Baumstarck, of female shoppers aged 18 to 35 who tried on clothes, showed a clear preference for frontal lights (those installed along the sides of the mirror) to overhead lights, which were ceiling mounted. Women complained that overhead lighting created shadows on their face and made them look unattractive. To avoid these unwanted shadows, shoppers had to step back from the mirror. Overhead lighting also makes a room seem smaller, creating a ‘claustrophobic’ experience. With frontal lighting, dressing rooms appear bigger and shoppers are willing to stay longer and even try on more clothes. Adult behaviour psychologist, Susan Quilliam says: “Beautiful clothes will always make a woman feel more beautiful and therefore more positive about her appearance, and more optimistic in general. We often use shopping to offset disappointments in other parts of life, or to balance out the negative emotions we feel about ourselves and others.

But if the shopping experience itself is negative, the whole event can be utterly destructive. Instead of boosting our self-esteem, it saps it; instead of making us feel good about ourselves and our lives, it brings up frustration, irritation and anger.” At a time when retailers are looking to every part of their businesses to improve performance, there is no substitute for good design based upon research. The use of space, lighting and brand identity within the changing areas have to make it easy for the consumer to buy into the brand ethos as much as the clothes themselves. The whole experience has to be appropriate for the shopper and their expectations of the brand. Outside of the changing rooms, the lobby needs to be inviting and designed to facilitate an attentive interaction between staff and customers. And in the era of multi-channel retailing, interactive technologies such as the magic mirror, virtual closet and other interactive dressing room technologies need to be appropriately integrated into the shopping and brand experience. In changing rooms and adjacent areas the application of expert design and input will, it seems, inevitably reward retailers with higher sales and happier customers.

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