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How Shoppers Purchase Apparel: Understanding the Customer Journey

For you to understand the retail experience of your customer, you need to look at the process through their eyes. While shopping, the customer navigates through three very distinct zones: The Engagement Zone, The Decision Zone, and the Disengagement Zone.

How can you successfully engage your customer, help her to decide on a choice or choices from the sales floor, and then move her quickly and efficiently through the fitting room and out of the store?

If you can fulfill your customer’s needs and desires, you will establish customer loyalty. If your customer has an outstanding retail experience, then you’ll have a repeat customer again and again.

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Once your customer enters the store, there are a whole number of different interactions she may have with your associates and also plenty of possible outcomes. The whole process is a big dance. Let’s look at how that dance might play out.

Sales Floor – The Engagement Zone

When a customer is on the sales floor, the sales associate trying to make contact is often met with resistance.

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The customer may be offered assistance, but decline to take the associate up on her offer. Or, the customer may feel ambushed by associates popping out all over the place and asking if they need help.

On the sales floor, the customer is often just browsing and is definitely not committed to anything. Therefore, the sales associate may deal with all sorts of avoidance on the part of the shopper. Here are just a few ways that can play out:

  • The customer doesn’t want to be “sold” to. She just wants to browse until something strikes the eye.
  • The customer may be uncommitted to making a purchase. Perhaps the customer is just waiting for someone else and is just killing some time.
  • When she’s approached by an associate with an offer of assistance, the customer may respond, “No thanks, I’m just looking” and walk away.
  • The customer may be on a mission to purchase a particular item. In this case, asking her what she is shopping for might be the right play. This is where a well-trained associate can shine.
  • The associate may ask if there is something in particular the customer is looking for, but the customer doesn’t want to share her personal shopping goals.
  • Etc.

Hopefully at some point, either your merchandise has interested her or the sales associate has properly engaged her, and the customer will be ready for interaction with your associate. Now she would like to try on the garment in the fitting room.

Fitting Room – The Decision Zone

The customer is ready and eager to try on the garments she has selected. Her commitment to actually buy something has increased significantly.

The power of the fitting room takes over and a behavior change occurs at this point. Now the customer really wants to find something that will make her day, to wear for a special occasion, or just to make her feel good. She may at this point:

  • Want to have the sales associate be available at all times to help with additional sizes/colors/styles. She may also want the sales associate’s opinion on what she is trying on. The sticking point is that it has to be on her terms – not when she’s undressed and vulnerable and resents intrusion, but when she is ready for an opinion or has a question.
  • Make the decision as to whether the apparel she has chosen actually satisfies her shopping goal or on whether she needs to make another selection. Suggestions by the sales associate will help to make her selection a little easier, especially if the sales associate sees the choices the customer is steering towards.
  • Piles of clothesDecide to get dressed and leave if she feels that assistance is not forthcoming. It’s here that you can lose a sale quickly if the customer feels she is being ignored or neglected.
  • Decide to get dressed and leave because the clothes just didn’t work out, and weren’t of enough interest to try on any more. Hey – it happens. We would love to be able to make a save here.
  • Want an opinion on what shoes, jewelry, or even outerwear will go with the outfit she is thinking about purchasing. It’s here your sales associate can upsell and cross-sell without offending the customer.
  • Release her personal information for store credit, or a loyalty program. In the fitting room setting there may be valid reasons for asking these questions (e.g. we can email you or text you when we have your size/preference in stock). The best part is that the customer will be much more amenable to sharing her information at this point than she will at the cashwrap.
  • Etc.

Let me be clear: your customer is making her purchase decisions in the fitting room. So the fitting room is one place that can make or break you. Are you noticing a lot of returns back to the racks in your fitting room? You may want to figure out the reasons for this and work on correcting them.

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Checkout – The Disengagement Zone

Once your customer has left the fitting room, she has made her commitment to purchase the garment or garments of her choice. At this point, your customer really just wants to pay for her purchase quickly and be on her way to continue her day.

However, she may still lay her purchases back down in a pile on top of a display if there is a long checkout line and she doesn’t want to wait until the customer backlog has cleared up.

On the other hand, if she is now moved through the line and out of the store quickly, smoothly, and efficiently, she will be most likely to return and shop again.

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As you can see, at any point during your customer’s visit to your store, she can change her mind and walk out. Your strategy is to make her shopping experience enjoyable so you can keep her there long enough to make a purchase decision.

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When you have sales associates who are knowledgeable about the merchandise and aware of the customer journey, they can know when the best times are to sell, to upsell, and to cross-sell – without annoying your customer. They can show the customer they value her time by getting her out the store efficiently, helping to ensure she returns again and again.

How do your sales processes support the zones your customer is working through?


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