This brief interview with Alert Tech’s CEO Marge Laney highlights how most apparel retailers are focusing on the wrong thing when it comes to customer experience.
Marge shares what retailers really should be looking at if they want to prioritize profits.
TRENT: Marge is the co-founder and CEO of Alert Tech, expert adviser of the brain trust for RetailWire.com and author of “Fit Happens, Analog Buying in a Digital World.” Marge is recognized as the retail industry’s leading authority on apparel fitting rooms.
Marge, thanks so much for coming and having a discussion with me. Is there anything about your bio there that needs the gaps filled in or do you think that adequately does it?
MARGE: Oh, I think you’ve adequately handled it, Trent. And thanks for having me.
TRENT: Yeah, no problem at all. So what inspired you to write the book, “Fit Happens”?
MARGE: Well, my hope for the book is that it’ll serve as a change agent industry-wide, so the conversations that retailers are having about the in-store experience…which mistakenly in my opinion center around the sales floor.
I want to move the focus of the conversation to the fitting room, which is prime real estate for generating revenue and connecting with customers. My book, Fit Happens, shows that it’s more profitable for retailers to focus on experience in the fitting room.
TRENT: So an apparel retailer, they’re thinking, “Okay, I’m going to read this book,” but what should they expect? What are they going to learn? And what problems are you trying to help them solve when they read the book?
MARGE: Well, no buying decision is final until the try-on is complete, whether that’s in-store or at home. And it’s well-documented that the reason customers visit physical stores is to touch and feel the products. And in the case of apparel retail, the touch and feel translates into the try-on in the fitting room where customers make the buying decision.
So fitting room visits are the most important driver of conversion… and the customer who uses the fitting room is 70% likely to buy versus browsing on the sales floor at 10%. So it’s really important that customers use your fitting rooms.
TRENT: Yeah, it would seem so. And I’ve been in, as I’m sure everybody has, quite a number of fitting rooms in my life and most of them are really awful, to be honest with you. They’re scuffed up. They’ve got a dirty carpet. There’s pins all over the floor. There’s a mirror on the wall.
And the most frustrating part for me is trying to get someone, you know, when I’m standing there in my underwear, trying to get someone to bring me something else because I’ve gone and taken the wrong sizes in with me. So have you got a story that tops that?
MARGE: Well, you know, worst, best…the answer to that question is so subjective. It depends upon expectations. I can tell you this though, that I think the answer has more to do with whether the brand promise is satisfied, rather than whether retailer A is better than retailer B in terms of their fitting rooms.
Do your fitting rooms satisfy your brand promise?
If I visit a discounter in their fitting room and they’re clean, comfortable, and secure, I’m happy with that experience because that’s what I’m expecting. But if I go on another day to visit a luxury retailer and the fitting rooms are wonderful, but I can’t get service when I need it, then that’s a fail. It’s really about expectations.
TRENT: So what are some of the things that you think retailers should be focusing on? Aside from the fact of making it comfortable and having it clean and having a good mirror, what are some of the things they should be focusing on in the fitting room?
MARGE: Well, there’s really three.
Number one, design. Which covers the mirrors and all the other design elements of the fitting room, which should really focus on bringing the sales floor and the brand into the fitting room.
And then the second thing is service. What is the expectation of service from the customer’s point of view? If you’re a discounter, you’re not looking for, you’re not going to get, and you really don’t want service that’s…because the retailer’s paying you to service yourself. But if you’re a high-end retailer, you need to think about that service model and what that means to your customer.
And then the third thing is technology. What technology serves your customers’ expectations and your service model the best?
TRENT: So can you speak to the technology point a little bit further?
MARGE: Well, technology can really run the gamut. It really needs to focus around again, what the customer expectation is. But in my opinion, two things need to happen as far as technology in the fitting room. You need to make sure that you don’t slow the process of the fitting room down. If I’ve got a complete Internet experience in a fitting room and suddenly I’ve got a fitting room full of customers and they’re all on the Internet, browsing the Internet, that slows my fitting room velocity down. Lines will form and it’s also an isolating experience.
And then the second part of that is making sure that you don’t create a heads down experience for the associates and the customers on the sales floor. If I’m in the fitting room and I’m trying to converse with an associate 20 feet away via a tablet, that’s not a good experience for me in the fitting room. Nor is it a good experience on the sales floor because I’m, as an associate, heads down, looking at my tablet, trying to figure out what they want and that leaves me totally unapproachable for any customers around me.
TRENT: So within any given retail organization, who do you think should be responsible for the fitting room processes and the experience?
MARGE: Well, as I say in my book, the ultimate responsibility of the fitting room experience should be someone in the C suite and it’s that important.
TRENT: So which person do you think? Which department?
MARGE: Oh, probably the COO.
TRENT: Okay. And so in terms of results because we all, anytime we’re making an investment in business, the financial suite is saying, “How’s this going to pay us back?,” what type of results would you say that retailers should expect when they start to focus on making improvements to the fitting room?
MARGE: Well, when customers make their buying decisions in the fitting room, it’s more profitable for the store and more enjoyable for customers who don’t have to take things home, try them on, and bring them back. Which in turn builds customer loyalty. It’s also more profitable for the retailer.
It’s in the store’s best interest to invest in the quality of the total fitting room experience. When the fitting room experience reflects the commitment to excellence and meets customer expectations, they’ll be more likely to take advantage of the fitting room and make more purchases.
TRENT: Makes perfect sense. So what’s next for you? Should we expect a follow-up book on another aspect of the retail experience?
MARGE: Well, my focus is the fitting room for sure. So you probably won’t find me focusing on anything else. That said, I think a book about fitting rooms from the customer’s point of view might be a real eye opener. I’ve been kind of toying with that one.
TRENT: Yeah, yeah. I would imagine there’d be some interesting stories to share.
MARGE: You bet.
TRENT: All right. So if anyone is listening to this and they’re thinking, “Hey, I’ve got a question for Marge and I want to get a hold of her,” what’s the easiest way for them to do that?
MARGE: Just call my office. I’m available any time.
TRENT: And what’s that number?
MARGE: The number is 800-366-8742.
TRENT: All right, Marge. Well, thank you very much for coming and having a short discussion with me about how retailers can look to make incremental or possibly even significant improvements to the performance of their fitting rooms.
MARGE: Thanks for having me, Trent.