A clothing retailer’s ideal customer has a recurring nightmare.

They’re in a dressing room with the four-to-six pieces the clerk has allowed, staring at themselves in an unflattering mirror. Not only is the lighting awful (is my skin really that green?), but piece after piece doesn’t seem to fit; or it’s the wrong color; or it doesn’t really go with those pants.

Ugh! Now they’ve got to throw on their street clothes, go back out to find a salesperson and/or select something else, then go back into a dressing room and start over—again and again.

Unless your customer is blessed with a personal clothing assistant tethered to them with Bluetooth who follows them everywhere, shopping for clothing in most stores is an off-putting experience. They might be motivated to buy when they go in, but when the experience is cumbersome and frustrating, they often give up and leave without a purchase. They lose interest in your brand, and you lose money without even knowing exactly why.

Isn’t there an app for that yet? Some way to make the shopping experience more pleasant so you can make more sales?

I’m glad you asked that question, and yes, there is; it’s called “integrated commerce.” Right now some of the high-end clothiers like Ralph Lauren and Rebecca Minkoff are experimenting with fitting room touchscreen technologies that remove some of the headaches (and barriers to purchase) for shoppers, as outlined in the video below from Oak Labs.

Want to see what your outfit looks like in low light or daylight? A touch of the mirror screen makes it so. Want your selection in a different size or color? A salesperson on the floor instantly sees your request on their tablet and will bring it to you. Are there other options in stock other than what you’ve chosen that could do the trick? Staff can make suggestions based on what he/she knows you’ve already tried on. You can pay for your purchase right from the screen or save the fitting room experience on your phone so you can purchase items later. The barrier of long check-out lines is circumvented, and you’re on your way in minutes.

Less Friction = Customer Happiness = More Money

Now, you won’t be seeing this in Walmart or Marshall’s, or local dress boutique fitting rooms any time soon—the technology is still pretty pricey. However, the experiment is paying off in more purchases and less “cart abandonment” for those retailers who have tried it. Why? Because it makes the shopping experience exponentially easier—garnering more loyalty and higher customer lifetime value. Makes sense, right?

In an article in issuu.com published by Payment Week, Healey Cypher, CEO and Co-Founder of Oak Labs notes that in the world of physical shopping, “Paying is the SINGLE biggest point of friction that can lose the sale… and at the moment when the customer has the strongest indication of intent: they’ve got an item in-hand and are waiting in line.”

As an example, he shared in the article that a national grocery chain saw a 9% lift in sales when they used queue distribution to reduce checkout wait time from five to seven minutes to less than three minutes.

“If you can make experiences able to match the exact pace of the customer (read: as quickly as they want), they will be happier. Guaranteed. And they’ll buy more,” he says.

What Can Retailers Learn from This?

Today’s app-centered buyers are always on the lookout for convenience, and an enhanced customer experience, whether they’re shopping online or in a brick-and-mortar store, so it pays to be willing to think outside the box.  Buying clothing in a store is very personal—and right now the consumer does all the work himself. The whole process is riddled with barricades to sales. However, emerging technology enhances the customer’s experience in two ways:

  1. It personalizes the relationship with the sales associate, so he/she gets the chance to be more of a “personal clothing assistant” to the customer, making it easier and less time-consuming for customers to view, select and purchase clothing items.
  2. It allows in-store collection of data that up until now has been lost. What products are customers most interested in? What sizes, colors and styles work best? For instance, you can now learn a lot from knowing which pieces were rejected (and why). This gives the retailer new insights into customer preferences so they can make inventory modifications that further enhance the experience.

I’ve often said that the most dangerous words a businessperson can utter are, “we’ve always done it this way,” and that’s doubly true of retail in the digital age. These new innovations in technology are exciting! They get you thinking about new ways your brand can enhance customer relationships by creating a better buying experience—the epitome of “Return on Relationship.”

Originally posted at The Future of Customer Engagement and Commerce

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