Archive for April 23rd, 2011

April 23, 2011

Retail In Therapy – Part II

Last week I discussed the change in my shopping habits.  While I still love the personal interaction of seeing and touching merchandise before I buy it, and I still like to see my favorite sales associates, the rest of the shopping experience has fallen quite flat.  I have moved away from spending time and money at the mall and find myself buying online.  Why?  Well I think I know exactly why. 

The online shopping experience has caught up, and in some cases surpassed its brick-and-mortar big brother.  The traditional retail environment has probably never really been all that awesome, but we didn’t have other choices.  We hiked in from the outer realms of the parking lots, put up with snooty salespeople, waited for dressing rooms, and were deafened in food courts, to emerge exhausted yet triumphant, packages in hand having bought what was there.  But now, thanks to the ever-improving world of internet retail, we have better options.  At home, in the comfort of our jammies! 

Clothing shopping is a highly personal activity.  And it should be.  After all – it’s all about YOU – what you want, what you need and how you feel.  You need to feel stuff, need to interact, and you NEED to try on clothes and shoes.  Retailers know this and I think they initially thought that those needs would hamper the success of on-line fashion retail.  But gradually they have honed their shopping interfaces and services to provide sites that are user-friendly, convenient and even fun, and they have developed ways to enable us to try merchandise before we commit.

Some companies offer free shipping, and/or free returns, so you can now buy multiple sizes or styles, and return the ones that don’t work.  Other sites have provided detailed fit and sizing information, and some even have on-demand help so you can ask questions.  If you are still not getting enough interaction, you can check out the reviews on the item you are considering – see what other people thought about it.  These folks aren’t getting paid to sell to you, so if that dress didn’t look like it did in the catalog, or was poorly constructed, they are going to say it!  

I think one of the greatest benefits of the internet to fashion retail is the selection.  With the comparatively low cost of supporting an internet site, designers and retailers – especially boutique and specialty retailers – are able to reach more customers for less money – so we consumers benefit from a broader selection.  We are no longer constrained to the merchandising that is directed at the demographics where we live.  For example, the internet is a much more target rich environment for unique, higher-end and career oriented plus size clothing for me than my local mall could ever be.  I am no longer limited to what Lane Bryant and the department stores have in stock, now I am able to shop retailers and designers from all over the world!   

And before you doubting types say …ah yes… but you don’t get the same personal service, let me tell you, you CAN!   Thanks to chat features and email, you can get the help you need.  You can even, with smaller businesses, establish personal relationships, and in many cases you will get better service because this is *their* business, and they care that it is a success. 

Here is a case in point.  After searching the internet for a very specific garment in my size, I finally found it at an on-line boutique –  While this site understandably had a fairly restrictive return policy I was so happy to find the item I bought it.  When I received the item there was an issue and given the nature of the issue and the fact that the return would be at my own expense and for site credit, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to bother.  But I did notify the retailer, not expecting a response but feeling the need to be heard.  Proprietress Lesley responded immediately – she took care of my issue and ensured my satisfaction.   Shout out to Lesley and I will be shopping with her again!   

There are unquestionably some trade offs with internet shopping.  Yes, you do have to pay shipping in most cases.  And the smaller venues tend to be less flexible in their return policies, notably with sales merchandise.  You also need to be smart and cautious about who you do business with so that you deal with reputable and secure sites.  But the benefits of comfort, privacy, convenience and selection far outweigh the disadvantages. 

All is not lost for the great American shopping mall.  I read a recent article in the Wall Street Journal that discussed how retailers like Anne Taylor, Macys, and even Old Navy are revamping their dressing rooms as a part of reaching out to their disappearing customers.  Whether it’s offering dressing rooms that feel like a posh walk-in-closet, or convenient “quick change” stations, or other handy features and services, the goal is to make the shopping experience more comfortable, more personalized, more like… HOME. 

I certainly haven’t gone off my favorite hobby.  I love shopping – the process of finding that perfect item to acquire and the exciting act of acquisition.  It must be the hunter/gatherer in me.  But now the excitement doesn’t just come in the form of a tissue enrobed item in a shiny carrier bag.  It also arrives with the satisfying sight of a UPS box on the table when I come home from work.  Ahhh…..

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