Topic: Retail Sales

NRF Retail Trends 2012: Are Bricks and Mortar Not for Browsers Anymore?

By Bob Phibbs
This is part of a series of retail expert discussions from the National Retail Federation's Big Show in New York last week. The goal was to have a point/counterpoint discussion of some of the hot topics in retailing. Sponsored by Alert Technologies, these dialogues allowed us to interact and help you as a C-level executive look at some of the more complex issues concerning bricks and mortar stores, their employees ability to serve the customer and interactions with technology.

This interview features Marge Laney with Alert Technologies and Bob Phibbs, the Retail Doctor discussing how fitting rooms are a missed opportunity for many apparel retailers. Here is the video to watch and an edited transcription below.

Bob: A lot of retailers are talking about how, with Omni-Channel, they don't need as big of a store - their store size is shrinking. With so many people buying online and pointing and clicking, we really don't need a fitting room anymore, right? So we can just rip those things out because they're just worthless. How many people want to go to a fitting room? There's nobody there most of the time, they're creepy and they're dark and a lot of them aren't even clean. So why not just rip them out?

Marge: No, actually, exactly the opposite is true. The only reason the brick and mortar apparel retailer exists today, and will in the future, is because of their fitting rooms. And the reason I say that is, back in 2003, Envision Retail, a consultancy in London, did a study. They found that over 70% of people who use fitting rooms buy, versus the people on the sales floor that just browse and not use the fitting room, only would buy 28% of the time.

They just redid that survey last year, and it was stunning to see what happened. In 2010, only 10% of the people that browse the sales floor purchase, compared to 28% in '03.

Bob: That's huge.

Marge: I thought about that for a long time. I thought what is going on? My answer: Online. The browsers aren't coming to your store anymore. The browsers are going online. The browsers are staying home, and they're staying in their jammies. They're getting online and they're buying there. So what does that tell us? That tells us that the customer that walks through your store is there to fit and feel your stuff. And it's so important that you engage that customer and drive them to the fitting room every single time.

Bob: But that's hard to do, isn't it? An awful lot of people say, "But I don't have the staff for that. I'm going to go through and add all these fitting rooms? How do we know they’re in there? Am I supposed to look under and see feet?"

Marge: You're exactly right. That's why they need to start looking at their fitting rooms in a different way.

Bob: And to build on that, aren't most people looking at fitting rooms like this is loss prevention?

Marge: Absolutely. Even here at the NRF show, I've talked to people in the aisles that have fitting rooms and they'll tell me that they're just sort of a pain. That they're, as you say, a loss prevention nightmare, hard to clean, hard to service, etc. But what they don't see is that it's the highest conversion zone and that they should be addressing that.

Bob: But whose read Envision?

Marge: Exactly.

Bob: I mean, is that something that's big?

Marge: And they, well, this is their business. They should make it their business to understand, and that's why I'm the fitting room evangelist.

Are fitting rooms something you look for? When you use them, do you secretly scan the items to see if they are cheaper online? What would a good fitting room experience look like for you? Please add your comment below.

My thanks to Marge Laney at Alert Technologies and our cameraman Brian Laney who made this all sound and look great!

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