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Here's how retail store trials rooms are changing

Last updated on: December 24, 2010 16:43 IST

Here's how retail store trials rooms are changing

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Meghana Biwalkar in Mumbai

Once they were just a hole in the background shabby, small, and unimpressive. It was more as of some leftover space had been converted into trial rooms. But, as the Indian retail industry undergoes a huge change, so do the trial rooms.

Today, they are more than just a leftover space. In fact, they are moving from the background and coming to the forefront. They are not just donning a new image, but are being referred to as 'fitting rooms'.

Now, responding to customers' increased awareness, developed choice and brand knowledge, retailers are certainly paying more attention to the much neglected changing or trail rooms.

In addition to increasing their area, one can also notice the way the layouts, lights and other fixtures are being done innovatively and creatively. And, this is only the beginning.

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Photographs: Reuters
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Here's how retail store trials rooms are changing

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Enhancing the moment of decision

Trial rooms - or fitting rooms, as they are now known - play a crucial role in customers' buying decisions.

Retailers have increasingly understood that it is the last three feet, and the arm's-length that are the most effective in either persuading or closing the sale.

"Fitting rooms fall within this place of decision, and do so at a point where the customer is at their utmost vulnerability, exposure, and openness to influence in ways both direct and indirect," says Ken Nisch, chairman, JGA, a United States-based retail design and brand strategy firm.

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Photographs: Reuters
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He adds, ". . . particularly as it related to women's retail, the fitting rooms are often a place of consolation, sisterhood, and payback compliments where one patron can significantly influence through social contact, interaction, and positive reinforcement the question of whether to buy or not to buy."

If figures are anything to go by, then according to a London-based consultancy, Envision Retail, customers who use a fitting room are 71 per cent more likely to buy, and sometimes buy twice as much as those simply browsing the sales floor.

Moreover, if customers are provided with attendant services in the fitting rooms, the study says, they will buy nearly three times as much as the casual shopper.

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Photographs: Courtesy Laszlo Regos Photography
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Here's how retail store trials rooms are changing

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Designing a trial room

Thus it is important for retailers to understand the importance of layout, location and accessibility of trial rooms. Also, well-crafted trial rooms enhance the entire shopping experience of the customer.

The first and foremost aspect for both retailers and customers is the size of the trial room. Dissonance can take place if the trial experience is not up to the mark. The space should be comfortable for the customer to move about.

Other elements such as location, decor, temperature, lighting and mirrors, need to be kept in mind in order to enhance customer experience.

For instance, it is important to place the trail room in a central location, and it should be easily accessible from different parts of the store.

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Photographs: Robert Galbraith/Reuters
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Usually, it is observed that fitting or trial rooms are part of the third place in retail, which is usually between the more operational aspects of the store at the cash wrap, and the browsing shopping areas where the merchandise is displayed.

"Now fitting rooms are becoming more exposed to the floor, through the integration of additional social and seating areas, increasingly an extension of the sales floor in terms of the quality of finishes, lighting, and even sales assistance.

With this move from behind-the-scene to the front, elements such as lighting, mirrors, furniture, the size of the fitting rooms, and amenities within the fitting rooms are key," points out Nisch.

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Photographs: Sima Dubey/Reuters
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Enhancing the experience

Some noticeable changes at leading retail outlets in India go to show how retailers and brands are finding ways to integrate people's shopping experience.

Factors like seating in the rooms, space for customers to keep their bags, wallets, car keys, mobile phones etc, are being introduced to the new-age fitting rooms.

Further, retailers like Shoppers Stop have introduced features like day and night switch in the trial rooms. This helps the customers see themselves in a particular dress, and how they would look in it during the day and at night.

It's not just functionality of the trail room that is undergoing a change. Even the colour of the walls is being carefully picked. After all, it's all about making the customer feel comfortable.

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Photographs: Reuters
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Thus, one can see trial room either presented in lighter or brighter shades, as opposed to neutral shades used in the past.

Even the humble mirror is undergoing a change. Mirrors are put on meeting walls -- walls next to each other that form an 'L' -- as per the layout plan. The lights are placed in such a manner that all the walls are uniformly illuminated.

Unlike in the past, where store-keepers would use mirrors that would flatter the customers, retailers are now giving the customers mirrors that give a more realistic view.

It's not just the inside area that is being developed. Retailers are putting comfort chairs and couches outside the trial room for the accompanying patrons. Also, the number of trial rooms is increasing, especially at stores that have high footfalls. This means there is no waiting or long queues.

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Photographs: Reuters
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It's not just the basic look and feel that is changing. Stores are now applying creativity to the once drab trail rooms.

For instance, the 'Loot', a multi-brand discount store, has made its trial rooms resemble a prison cell. This goes with their theme and identity.

Even Pepe stores periodically change the look of their trial rooms to integrate with the overall theme of the store.

Retailers are not leaving any stone unturned even at kids' stores. After all, they play an important part in influencing a purchase decision. Trail room for kids has cartoon characters painted on walls, colourful hooks, and so on.

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Photographs: Courtesy JGA, retail design and brand strategy firm
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"Technology has entered the fitting rooms. Ideas such as pressure sensitive floor mats that announce when a customer is in the fitting room, help signals, and magic mirrors that capture and transfer images to be shared with others during the try-on process.," says Nisch.

"In cases where the demographic is appropriate, decision points such as picking your own music, video, and entertainment might be part of your try-on experience," adds Nisch.

Going forward

The future always is drawn in ways that tends to be a bit more dramatic than reality.

"In the end, people expect clean, well lit, ample, well located, and well serviced fitting rooms. What the difference is that up until the recent past, this was seen as differentiation to meet these minimum standards.

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Photographs: Courtesy: JGA, retail design and brand strategy firm
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Today it is only the beginning with customers looking for elements that are supportive of their purchase process," says Nisch.

There is no doubting the impact a trial room design has on sales and it's something that can't be ignored. Indian shoppers are not frivolous when it comes to spending their money and if they have the option to try on merchandise before buying it they will certainly exercise it.

Thus we can be assured that retailers are on their way to providing a truly international and amazing experience to their customers. After all, they can't take a chance to turn away the discerning customer with a shabby trial room.

 


Photographs: Courtesy Mark Steele Photography
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