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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Trying Ideas On For Size

Mix match originally uploaded by rebbcat.
"There are more sales lost in the dressing room than perhaps in any other place in the context of the store." So writes Teresa Méndez from The Christian Science Monitor in High-tech dressing rooms become virtual reality. New technology should make it possible for customers to solicit opinions from friends remotely as she quotes Paco Underhill. "It's a retail space where, on average, a shopper spends 3.5 very important minutes."

The article goes on to describe high tech developments to reinvent the "lowly fitting room" via a 'social retailing mirror.'

The notion of fitting rooms intrigues me. I've certainly noticed more seating outside of fitting rooms to accommodate those waiting - for example, Macy's with curved benches, and Urban Outfitters with living room settings. And, although Forthe & Towne has shut down [see Gap to close Forthe & Towne from 2/26/2007], I love what they tried to accomplish with their dressing room statement.

Dresser's Oasis from BusinessWeek Online Sept. 2005 explains visually how "Fitting rooms are the venue for the actualization of a woman's personal taste and style. Forth & Towne makes them fabulous." This 9/20/2005 BusinessWeek Online article by Andrew Blum explains it further in Forth & Towne: The Store's the Thing At Gap's new women's apparel chain, architectural design -- notably the dressing room's central placement -- is defining what the new brand is. This is where "the real stage is the fitting rooms" with the store literally designed around them. In VisualStore on Forthe & Towne -- "New concept offers a shopping sanctuary for the fashionably mature woman" from 12/5/2005, Anne DiNardo, Associate Editor, further describes the store concept with wonderful dressing room photos.

Even though the store is no more, I want to dwell on the dressing room.

NRF Stores states in Give Customers Some Space by Lorrie Grant from April 2007 that "Fitting Rooms are fast becoming inviting spaces with large changing and waiting areas furnished with plump sofas, fresh-cut flowers, art and entertainment. It's all part of a big effort to connect emotionally with the customer and increase loyalty and sales."

And, although Target perhaps doesn't represent the extreme of what Grant describes, The Curious Shopper asks How does my butt look? in appreciation for "what no average residence contains. That infinitely wise, truth-bearing, all-knowing and all-illuminating butt mirror."

Pshaw, you say! What does all this have to do with flooring stores?

In my humble target-woman-consumer opinion, I suggest that dressing or fitting rooms have a lot to do with flooring stores. Not in the sense that flooring stores should get into the apparel business. However, definitely in terms of offering consumers the equivalent of an apparel store fitting room: a place that encourages the consumer to try product on.

This is particularly relevant for ideas, concepts and products that have little to do with commodity transactions, that have everything to do with fashion!

A fitting room, dressing room, changing room - all represent names for a place where a consumer can comfortably consider different product ideas and try them on for size. If the idea fits, the consumer buys it.

Isn't that what we want consumers to do in a flooring store? We want to encourage them to consider possibilities, to try flooring ideas on as a solution to what they want to achieve in their homes. We don't want them to simply walk in and purchase the lowest cost whatever and never return...

Stores that understand have created dedicated areas where consumers can try on ideas, spread out fabrics, match up paint swatches with carpet samples and other flooring options. We aren't talking high tech here. It's a simple concept: at the very least a table and several chairs. Warm lighting would be helpful, perhaps even a board for pinning ideas up on. And, then, assuming your consumers engage fully with your retail experience [after all that is what you have created], they actually choose to linger in your store.... You might offer them coffee or water, and any other of the tools of hospitality that reassure them that they are welcome.

Are you convinced? Go on. Encourage your shoppers to try your ideas on for size. You may actually generate relationships and sales.

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