Changing rooms are taking centre stage as experiential, value-add features of retail stores
Why do some retailers put lots of effort and energy into their bricks-and-mortar stores but ruin the shopping experience with substandard changing rooms? It is a sad fact but shoppers are too often subjected to cramped, uncomfortable and dirty cubicles – potentially wrecking the final, crucial decision-making stage before purchase.
“The fitting room experience is rapidly becoming one of the key reasons [customers] continue to shop in store,” says Kate Shepherd, director of strategy and insights at store design consultancy Checkland Kindleysides. “These spaces need to amplify the tactile, sensorial and emotional elements of the in-store experience that are impossible to replicate online.”
One retailer attempting this is luxury department store Harvey Nichols in London’s Knightsbridge. Its new menswear department features large, uniquely furnished dressing rooms with helpful features such as phone chargers. “Modesty cupboards” – wardrobes with two-way doors – allow staff to bring shoppers new items without disturbing them.
“They’re like a luxury replenishment service within the confines of the changing room, elevating the VIP feeling,” notes Alison Farrington, freelance retail editor for trend forecaster The Future Lab. “Shoppers can request more outfits without the need to walk the shop floor underdressed.”
The store’s personal shopping space takes this a step further: large changing suites encircle a luxe living room-style seating area, complete with wide-screen TVs, and food and drink service. A removable dividing wall between two adjoining suites can create one huge space for groups to share and shop socially.
“The interlocking rooms celebrate the social element of shopping,” says Farrington. “This is a hangout space intended to encourage dwell time.”
It is not just luxury retailers that are dedicating valuable space to boost social shopping experiences. Scandinavian fast fashion retailer Lindex opened its first UK store in Westfield Stratford City last year. Changing rooms are visible and open to the store, sited centrally among product rather than separated and hidden behind walls. The large changing rooms have a communal feel and large seating areas.
We’ve set the mould for the future of the in-store shopping experience, proving that fashion and technology can go hand and hand
Uri Minkoff, CEO of Rebecca Minkoff
“In fashion retailing, the social experience is key and this informed our design of the Lindex fitting rooms, which are the focal point of the store,” says Shepherd. “They set a new benchmark in value retailing for the premium experience they deliver.”
American womenswear brand Rebecca Minkoff is pioneering changing room technology with its “digitally connected” stores. Mirrors that double as touchscreens allow customers to browse the brand’s website, sales assistants for additional sizes and adjust lighting settings.
Furthermore, radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology recognises the items of clothing shoppers have chosen, and prompts the screens to display sizes, colours and similar items, as well as promoting stylists’ picks of complementary styles, which can be brought to the changing room at the touch of a button. When shoppers leave, they receive emails promoting the items they tried, prompting them to purchase online.
Not only does this boost the experience for customers by connecting the best bits of in-store and online shopping, it gives the brand valuable information, says CEO Uri Minkoff: “The changing rooms have served as a great tool to pick up on what the customers want. We pay attention to how they’re styling items they bring into the rooms or if there’s something that a lot of customers bring in but never purchase. Knowing what our customer wants is the kind of feedback that is used to help design our collections and plan our product assortment.”
Minkoff reports that, since the mirror screens were introduced, 30% of customers ask for additional items: “Historically, we’ve been known for our handbags, but the changing rooms have tripled our clothing sales related to other categories in our stores.”
He concludes: “We’ve set the mould for the future of the in-store shopping experience, proving that fashion and technology can go hand and hand.”