A question that many different retail shop owners are asking these days (and indeed, a common question among shoppers themselves) is what the “store of the future” will resemble. Will brick and mortar stores even continue to exist? Will the entire shopping scene shift to online-based operations and purchases? Or will the “store of the future” be a hybrid between the traditional brick and mortar store setup and the more modern shopping experience offered by Amazon and other online retailers?
Is Brick and Mortar Dead?
There is an argument to be made that brick-and-mortar is struggling. The statistics show, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that more and more customers are shopping online every year. Furthermore, the relatively recent disintegration of entire brick and mortar industries (bookstores and video rental stores come to mind) offer food for thought for just about anyone involved in retail.
But brick and mortar is not dead, particularly for apparel, where personal service and fitting rooms offer a shopping experience that is not easily replicated online. Sure, some shoppers are still buying their clothes online, but for most consumers, the ability to see, touch, feel, and try on apparel in person is too valuable to be sacrificed.
The modern retail fitting room doesn’t just have a place in the store of the future, but could be the ultimate reason why clothing retail stays primarily a brick and mortar industry even as everything else is going online. But what will the fitting rooms of the future look like, and what can your store do to be at the cutting edge of innovation?
The answer can be split into three categories:
- The visual aspects of a fitting room
- The customer experience of the shoppers using the fitting room
- The data that apparel retailers can collect when customers go into fitting rooms.
1. Visual Aspects of a Fitting Room
Apparel retailers are beginning to realize that fitting rooms are a hugely important part of the customer experience, and not just because they allow smarter, more fully considered purchases than online apparel shopping. On the contrary, in terms of pure statistics, fitting rooms have always been important.
Going into a fitting room shows a retailer that a customer is interested in making a purchase. When a customer goes into a fitting room, the chances of that person making a purchase shoot up 67%. Fitting rooms that echo your brand or embrace new technology and trends can increase that figure even further, as you will learn if you pick up a copy of my book Fit Happens. We offer a free chapter here.
However, simply having a fitting room is not enough to ensure a positive future for brick and mortar apparel retailers. Instead, retailers will need to focus on improving their fitting rooms to mesh with the “store of the future” mentioned in the title of this article, and the first improvement is a visual one. Of course, keeping your fitting rooms clean and aesthetically pleasing is a part of it, but the most crucial component is making sure your fitting rooms make customers look good.
A viral Buzzfeed article from earlier this year showed how different the same shopper in the same outfit can look in different fitting rooms—depending on everything from lighting to room color to the size of the mirror. You can read more about the visual improvements that can be made to your fitting room in this blog post.
2. Customer Experience of the Shoppers Using the Fitting Room
Cool technology can drive shoppers to the fitting room, and will likely play a big role in the apparel retail store of the future. Magic digital mirrors, for instance, can function as a modern “look book” that allows customers to envision themselves in different garments without actually trying them on. The goal of this technology is not to replace fitting rooms, but to give shoppers greater reason to visit fitting rooms.
The question that a magic mirror seeks to answer for a customer is about which items look good enough to bother trying on. If the shopper feels as if he or she looks good in the apparel in question, the next step is a visit to the fitting room to get the right size and feel. Numerous Neiman Marcus stores have begun to implement this new technology, but it may not become commonplace any time soon.
Augmented reality (AR) apps are another technology that can improve customer experience in your store. Customers download an app before coming into your store, then walk through the aisles or displays and see a virtual version of the store on their device screen. The app can display sale discounts, prices, customer reviews, and the other types of helpful information that you might expect to find in an online store.
In other words, these augmented reality applications essentially combine the best of both online shopping and in-person shopping into one unified experience. eBay is also working on a retail “Singularity” technology that would help brick and mortar customers keep track of shopping history or likes and dislikes while shopping in a store.
Customers are lapping up AR integration in store and brands are beginning to take note. – Creative Guerilla Marketing
Technology can also just be used to simplify the shopping process. For instance, why ask your customers to go from the store floor, to the fitting room, to the cash register if you can give them a self-checkout register in the fitting room itself?
3. Data Collection
The modern retail fitting room, finally, will be outfitted with various sensors and technologies designed to collect data about how customers are shopping and what products they show interest in. For instance, RFID tagging of different garments can give retailers a chance to monitor exactly what shoppers are taking into fitting rooms or ultimately purchasing. These data can then be used by store owners to improve inventory, measure fitting room effectiveness, and more.
Occupancy sensors and call buttons in fitting rooms can also provide a wide range of data and help you improve customer experience in your store. Your salespeople shouldn’t just be helping shoppers out on the floor, but also in the fitting room. When you can measure occupancy in your fitting rooms and give your customers an easy way to call for shopping assistance, you can both learn more about how people shop and improve sales figures. Learn more about both of these technologies here.
Become a Retail Store of the Future
Retail shopping is changing and evolving across the board, and apparel retailers are not immune to the changes. By embracing this evolution and working to improve the customer experience, visual flare, and data collection prowess of your fitting rooms, your store will be able to survive and thrive in an age when more and more shopping is moving into the Internet realm.