Harper Grey: The Fitting Room Experience


The Savvy Shopper - Harper Grey

Ask any man and he’ll tell you that women like to buy clothes. If he’s married to one he’ll complain about how much of his money she spends (even if she makes more money than him). If he’s dating one he might angle for sympathy by telling you about the epic shopping trip she dragged him on last Saturday, causing him to miss the game of the season. It’s a stereotype that many women fight, but like all stereotypes, it contains a grain of truth: in 2010, women spent over $34 billion on clothing for themselves. This is good news if you own a store selling women’s clothing or are thinking about opening one.

I’m going to tell you a little secret about what a woman wants when she’s shopping for clothes: She wants a clean, quiet spot to try on her selections and she wants to feel good about herself while she does it. Her experience in the fitting room affects how much she buys in your store even more than your cool displays, your extensive selection of the latest trends and your bargain prices.

Women want a spacious, well-lit room with a secure door. There shouldn’t be dirt on the floor or piles of clothing that the previous shopper tried on and threw down. There should be a little bench seat across from the mirror, because any woman with a bit of shopping savvy knows that it’s imperative to sit when trying on jeans – if the waistband cuts off your circulation when you sit, you know it’s time to either try a bigger size or go to a more expensive store where the size 8 is cut larger. Outside the fitting room a three-way mirror is helpful for checking out your butt. A “man” couch comes in handy so that you can get a second butt-check opinion from the man in your life. If there’s no couch for your man,  then he is probably already long gone, wandering the aisles looking for something more interesting than women’s jeans.

Sadly, many retailers don’t understand the value of a well-designed fitting room and they’re probably losing sales because of this oversight. Let’s take a look at this concept first-hand: Come along with me on a shopping expedition for a new pair of jeans . . .

My first stop is a hip discount store that carries clothing for men, women and kids. The women’s clothing at this store seems to be sized more for teenagers than women whose hips have experienced the joys of several pregnancies and I have yet to find a pair of jeans there that fits. But the prices are so good, I just keep trying. I grab jeans in two different sizes and head to the fitting room. The stalls in the fitting room are tiny and only have “half” a door. Meanwhile, a mother has lost her toddler and he is currently trying to crawl under the the door to get a peek at my semi-naked self. Outside the stall, two teenage boys  waiting for their girlfriends laugh with youthful perversion. The music is loud and blaring, the hook where I’m supposed to hang my jeans is hanging from one loose screw.

I pull on the first pair, which I can zip, but only barely. There isn’t a little bench inside the fitting stall but I’m quite certain that the sit-down test would end badly. The second pair zips nicely and I think maybe I have a winner. But then I look in the mirror. Ugh. My butt looks squashed and my thighs look like…well you get the point. Then I take a closer look at myself. I look terrible – there are dark circles under my eyes, my skin has a greenish tint and my hair looks drab and stringy. Not only do I feel fat, I’m feel ugly too! I noticed some cute tops earlier and I’d like to try them on but now I’m convinced that everything in the store is too tiny and I don’t want to spend another minute in front of this mirror. Self-esteem deflated, I leave the store determined to book a hair appointment and hit the gym tomorrow.

But I really, really need a new pair of jeans so I head to the mall and make a beeline for the “classy” department store. A saleswoman assists me in finding some jeans, ushers me into the fitting room and leaves, closing the full-sized door securely behind her. The room is spotless and has four hooks to hold my potential purchases. Soft, fluffy carpeting caresses my toes when I take my shoes off and strains of classical music play while I try on the first pair of jeans. Which are too big. So is the next pair. No worries, because the saleswoman has reappeared and is asking if I need anything…anything at all. While she’s tracking down a smaller size, I take a closer look at my hair and complexion. Very odd. In the department store fitting room, my hair looks shiny and bouncy and my complexion has a nice rosy glow. I am suddenly much, much prettier. The saleswoman brings back the smaller jeans. I try them on and look in the mirror to find that my thighs look trim and my butt looks fabulous! So I buy the jeans (and two sweaters that the wonderful saleswoman suggested I try) and I strut out of the women’s department with my shopping bag, feeling like a million bucks. Maybe I’ll stop in the shoe department and find some boots while I’m here.

Did my butt suddenly shrink in between hip discount store and nice department store? Did my hair go from lifeless and dull to shampoo-commercial fabulous in the space of a half hour? Did I really want to spend more money than I had planned? Nope. The difference was all lights and mirrors. Magicians never tell anyone about their tricks with lights and mirrors but if you have a retail shop that offers women’s clothing, you need to be in the know.

A 2009 University of Florida study found that the lighting in dressing rooms makes a dramatic difference in women’s attitudes and their likelihood of purchasing clothing. Soft, amber, frontal lighting, placed on either side of the mirror (like the lighting at the classy department store) gives women a rosy glow. Shoppers in the study talked about, “frontal lighting giving their skin a healthy glow, making their cellulite less visible or being so soft and flattering that it made it appear they were in a bar or restaurant in the evening,” whereas in fitting rooms with overhead lighting, “women complained that overhead lighting created shadows on their face, making them look unattractive.”

Quality mirrors, installed on a slight angle (tilted closer to the shopper at the bottom, and gradually farther away at the top) make women look slimmer. The cheap mirrors you buy at the discount store are wavy and tend to flatten shoppers out, making them appear wider (and fatter).

You’ve probably spent a lot of cash decorating your shop, and dropped another wad on display fixtures designed to show off your stock in the most flattering way possible. Don’t forget the fitting room! Make sure that your customers are comfortable, help them look and feel fabulous and they’ll be more likely to keep trying on more and more… and buying more, too.