GDR’s Jacqueline Oteri surveys recent fitting room innovations and says retailers must use these spaces to enable their customers’ shopping missions.
With the rise of digital and e-commerce shopping over the last two decades, physical stores are selling less products than they used to. With Amazon offering ultra convenience on one hand, and slick online operators like NastyGal using influencer and social media culture to drive sales on the other, e-commerce now accounts for 13% of retail sales in the US. To respond to this threat, traditional retailers are maximising the advantages of their physical assets, and one of the ways they are doing this is by rethinking the fitting room experience.
Over the last decade we have seen a number of different approaches to fitting room innovations, ranging from high-tech connected and responsive solutions to low-tech approaches that rely on clever design. In this blog I’ll dig into these different routes and assess how they are helping physical retailers to become more in-step with their customers’ shopping missions.
Smart mirrors and smart shoppers
The most eye-catching and headline grabbing innovations in this area have been smart fitting rooms. Brands like Rebecca Minkoff and Ralph Lauren in New York and Tommy Hilfiger in London, for example, use touchscreens in their fitting rooms to give their customers timely information and recommendations. Using RFID technology, the screens can recommend alternative sizes and colours as well as styling advice. They also enable on-going conversations between customers and in-store staff, who can deliver additional items to the shopper, so they don’t have to keep moving between the fitting room and the shop floor. Customers can also add items to digital wishlists to reconsider or buy online later, something that the Fashion AI concept that Alibaba is trialling in China at the moment promises to revolutionise.
In many ways these fitting rooms offer the best of online and offline service, responding to customers needs in real-time to provide a more seamless and rewarding experience.
Creating unique and memorable experiences
Another interesting feature of the Ralph Lauren dressing rooms is that shoppers can customise the lighting scheme to mimic the social occasion where they intend to wear the clothing. As well as making the customer feel more comfortable, what’s particularly powerful about this execution is that the preset lighting options all create a branded experience. They include “Fifth Avenue Daylight,” “East Hampton Sunset” and “Evening at the Polo Bar” – all very Ralph Lauren.
This illustrates another fruitful strategy for fitting rooms: using the space to create unique branded experiences that differentiate you from the competition.
Online music site Starhub, for example, helped to create this type of interaction when it partnered with a Singaporean fashion brand. Starhub placed RFID tags within each of the retailers’ clothes that triggered a specific song to play when customers walked into the fitting room. Each song is said to personify the character of the item it is matched with, creating a much more curated experience for shoppers.
Elsewhere, plus size retailer Penningtons shows its fun sense of humour by projecting AR holograms of firefighters holding flowers and champagne on its fitting room mirrors. The hunky men become visible as shoppers approach the mirrors, making it appear as if they are being serenaded.
Online beauty brand Glossier also created a quirky trialling experience at a pop-up event for its Glossier You perfume. Customers were ushered to a private booth where a disembodied gloved hand appeared through a hole in a mirror before spraying the scent onto their wrist.
These examples vary in degrees of theatricality, but they all add a deeper and more meaningful level of engagement with the customer during the crucial moments of product trial.
Building in the social component
More often than not shopping is a social activity rather than a solitary one and clever retailers are starting to build this into their fitting rooms.
When Abercrombie & Finch launched its first new-look store in Columbus, Ohio last year it included what it referred to as “Fitting Room Suites”, which are larger, more comfortable spaces where groups of friends are given permission to take their time and enjoy trying on clothes together. This is an important change because it elevates the fitting room from being a purely functional space, into a much more pleasurable one.
Another important element of social shopping is the purchase validation that can only be received by posting pictures on social media for your friends to critique. Selfridges first addressed this in 2016 when it started placing selfie sticks in its fitting rooms, while more recently, “magic mirrors”, like those used by River Island in the UK, are empowering customers to post their photos straight onto their social media feeds.
For many shoppers, creating fun social media posts is a key component of any shopping trip and there are obvious benefits to retailers that help facilitate this.
As many of the examples above rely on expensive technology, I want to finish by highlighting how thoughtful design touches that consider the overall context of customers’ shopping journeys can often be just as effective.
British retailer New Look, for example, included different clothes hooks titled “definitely”, “maybe” and “my stuff” in its fitting rooms to help customers stay organised. In H&M’s New York flagship a checkout is positioned by the exit of its fitting rooms so that customers don’t need to queue up again after finding the clothes they love. Finally, Nordstrom’s new men’s store in New York doesn’t have a single big bank of changing rooms. Instead it dots easily-accessible fitting rooms throughout each floor, meaning customers never have to go searching for somewhere to try on their clothes.
Fitting rooms are a crucial touchpoint for physical retailers and these innovations show that there are a huge variety of approaches being taken to optimise them. The most important thing for retailers is that their fitting rooms reflect the missions of their customers. Some shoppers just want seamlessness and convenience, while others want experience at every touchpoint. The retailers with the best understanding of how their customers live and shop will be the ones that deliver the most on-point fitting room experiences.