Sunday, June 7, 2015

Fashion and Showrooming

I went shopping last week for summer shoes and sandals.

I found two pairs I liked at two different stores and asked to try them on.  In each case, the salesperson brought out a pair in the right size but the wrong color.  

When I remonstrated -- "I can't use pink shoes!" -- I was told just to try the shoes on for size and that, if I liked them, the store would order a pair in the correct color and have it delivered, free, to my house.

So I bought one pair of sandals and some d'orsay flats on Monday.  By Thursday, both had arrived at the front door.

This is not the first time this has happened.


A few years ago there was rising concern in the retail community that shoppers were using stores as "showrooms" -- places for examining merchandise but not buying.   

There was broad concern at the time that much retail would be eclipsed by online selling.  The fears seemed to prove true for at least some types of stores.

About five years ago, I went to a fancy china and silver shop to buy a wedding present.  The saleswoman lamented that plenty of people were coming into the store but nobody was buying anything.  A year later, I noticed that the store was closed and a "For Lease" sign was hanging in the window.

I suspect that what the saleswoman observed was "showrooming," people coming in to pick out dishware and then going online to buy what they wanted at discounted prices.

Fashion Showrooming

Much fashion business has moved online and I have shopped this way occasionally, but it has not worked well for me.  I'm fussy about how clothes fit and how they look in a mirror.  And the sizing for women's clothing is not consistent even within a given designer's brand, let alone across various fashion lines.  In addition, it's annoying to have to send back stuff I don't want. 

So unless I'm pretty darn sure about what I'm buying, I still shop in stores.  This is also easy for me because I live near a big, prominent shopping mall.

But the stores seem to have changed.  They have lots of stuff on display, but not so much in the back room.  If I like a particular shirt but the only one available is an XS, I am advised to try another, similar shirt in my size.  Then a salesperson offers to order and mail me the one I wanted in the first place.  This seems to happen most frequently in shoe departments. 

I think I get it.  If a national store has 1,000 outlets across the country, stocking multiple copies of every item in every size would cost a fortune.  It's cheaper to ship fewer copies directly to stores and make individual items available by order.  If the merchandise doesn't sell well, there are fewer markdowns to be taken.

Plus, if buyers have not anticipated that blood-red stiletto pumps will sell better in Dallas than Omaha, there is a remedy ready to hand. 

And there is precedent for this.  For many years, fashion stores have held trunk shows for individual designer brands, allowing customers to order the coming season's styles ahead of time.

The fashion business, it appears, has embraced the showroom.

Lemons, lemonade.

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