The Dressing Room: The Final Frontier

In recent years, retailers have aggressively implemented in-store systems to track customers’ every move from the moment they enter till the moment they leave (hopefully including a trip through a checkout lane). Specific details such as how long customers spend in front of a display are also carefully monitored and analyzed. Technology now allows retailers to keep tabs on what customers do in the store almost as rigorously as they follow customer actions online.

Yet one glaring exception to this shedding of light on the mysteries of in-store customer behavior remains – the dressing room. Customers walk into the dressing room with articles of clothing, try them on behind closed doors, and then walk out, possibly buying some, all or none of their selected goods. And most retailers have no insight into any of this activity.

Why the Dressing Room Matters
Conventional retail wisdom dictates that getting customers into the dressing room substantially boosts conversion rates. But better conversion rates are only one benefit retailers can gain from insight into customer dressing room behavior. With real-time insight into what exact items a consumer brings in the dressing room and what items (if any) they purchase, retailers get a much more accurate sense of how effective their assortment and merchandising strategies are.

For example, if customers frequently bring two or three versions of an item and select (or don’t select) a certain color, or tend to select the smallest (or largest) of different sizes, retailers can potentially alter their merchandising and pricing of different variations of that product before the end of the season. When this type of data is paired with individual identification of a customer (such as through a loyalty program or mobile opt-in), a brick-and-mortar retailer gets the type of “shopping cart” view typically reserved for e-commerce sites.

How Technology Can Help
There are several ways retailers can employ leading-edge technology to help navigate the woolly terrain of the dressing room frontier. Chain Store Age has covered the highly automated dressing room process of specialty denimwear retailer Hointer, which uses mobile devices to capture the items customers want to try on and then delivers and retrieves them through automatic chutes, ensuring that Hointer knows precisely what enters the dressing room and what leaves with the customer.

While Hointer’s elaborate, proprietary and automated dressing room system is probably beyond the technical capacity (and budget) of most retailers, the basic idea of having customers request items to try on via mobile phone is effective and in this hypermobile age, fairly simple.

Any type of technology that records what a customer brings into the dressing room, which can include kiosks, scanners and tablets as well as smartphones, provides substantial insight to the retailer and if deployed properly, make the customer’s life easier. Allowing customers to text or email requests for additional items for associates to deliver to the dressing room sheds even more light on the customer’s behavior and decision-making process in the dressing room.

And as mentioned in a recent column, many retailers are starting to tag individual high-end items with RFID tags. This allows retailers to know exactly what items customers bring into the dressing room, bring out, and ultimately buy. Cost likely prohibits the RFID tagging of inexpensive apparel items, but for pricier pieces of clothing this offers about as much insight into the dressing room as retailers will get short of hidden cameras, which we all know are off-limits for numerous reasons of decency, privacy, and the avoidance of massive lawsuits.


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