Clothes Shopping in 2011: A Guy's Perspective
Yesterday your intrepid blogger ventured out into the clothes shopping wars. I was actually kind of excited--men's clothing is really looking good, based on what I'm seeing "on the street" with some of the more fashion-forward looking guys, plus the catalogues I get that I occasionally thumb through (and that seem to keep on coming no matter that I never order).
So I spent a half-day (longer than I'd hoped!) at Nordstrom, Saks, and Rochester (an upscale "big and tall" store). Are you folks listening? Here's what a motivated customer who's also expert on the subject of customers encountered--the good, the bad and the bizarre--at the bazaar!
Here are my suggestions, free of charge, to the wonderful world of retail:
- Try using the same calendar the rest of us use.
Since it's 100 degrees outside, and we'll be seeing that for the next three months, I was sort of hoping to stock up on summer clothes. Not a chance! Nordstrom is stocking the new Fall line! Summer just started three weeks ago and they're trying to sell me sweaters! When I asked to see some linen slacks, there wasn't a pair left in the store. (Obviously I'm not a deep enough thinker for the retail world.)
- If 1+1 is always 2, then LT can always be LT.
OK, let's see what you've got in sport shirts... - My helpful "certified fitter" (says so right on her card) got me a wide selection of shirts in "my size" (which is Large Tall or LT). I say "my size" in quotes, because I soon learned that LT means different things to different labels. I get that labels seeking to distinguish themselves from competitors will have different "fit" (athletic, slim fit, larger collar bands and points, etc) but guys, c'mon, can we all agree on sleeve length, collar sizes, etc. for LT?
- Can you chat with my credit card company?
Since there are sales going on (not the reason I'm shopping, but what the heck, I'm happy to save some $), Nordstrom offered additional perks if I took out a charge card from them. With great trepidation, I agreed--and to my relief, the process was painless. Took maybe 90 seconds to get a "temporary card" that I could use immediately until the real one arrives in 10 days or so.
- OK, if you're going to make something easy, make it easy
However when I went to their website later to use it, after loading my shopping cart with several items and proceeding to check out, I pulled out my new temp card and--no number! All it showed was a bar code that the store could scan. To check out, I had to call the 800 number, and laboriously give the (helpful) rep the product number for each item, then tell him what color I wanted, etc, etc. HE could look up my account number--but he couldn't tell ME what it was! Time consuming. Weird.
- Retail 101: Don't make the basic experience difficult.
Back to live retailing at Rochester. I'm hoping to get in and out quickly, but the store setup is designed to prevent that. Clothing stocks are placed with the displays; making it very hard for me to see what shirts they have in my size all at once. My helpful assistant and I have to go to the brand displays I'm interested in, and then thumb through the individual styles trying to find my size. This of course, is the shopping experience at its most fundamental--a system for helping me find clothes. And it’s a total pain. I'm thinking, "Oh yeah, this is why I hate to shop."
- Learn from the sale rack.
However, the sale rack in the next room had sale items sorted by size, not brand. I went to the "LT" shirt section, and in 90 seconds had a half dozen good lookin' shirts or more to try on. (Too bad that LT doesn't mean LT! -- see above)
- You CAN show off your labels AND respect your customers' time too!
Hint to retailers AND labels: consider putting brand displays in the center of the floor, like you currently do--and go to town showing off your styles, how to "complete the look," etc. But put your stocks along the walls, sorted by size. That way when I come into the store, I'll see the looks and styles that I might like, and can then proceed quickly to the all the shirts (or slacks, or suits, etc) that you have in my size, allowing me to grab everything I might want in a couple of minutes. I get the feeling you're listening to experts who insist that proper "merchandising" requires that the customer suffer the usual gross inefficiency. It only helps make the shopping experience onerous, which makes me want to avoid it next time. You can't properly merchandise to me if I won't go to your store. Every time you do this you're creating one more customer for a service like Zappos.
-- Did I mention that "LT" should mean "LT"?
My favorite item of the day was Robert Graham shirts, I bought one at Nordstrom. Rochester had a much bigger selection in my size (LT, in case you forgot). I buy one and order another that they'll send to me. Super! But whoops, I later discover that LT can mean different things EVEN WITHIN THE SAME LABEL! The Rochester version of an LT Robert Graham shirt is substantially different from the Nordstrom LT Robert Graham shirt! The sleeves are more than an inch longer, the tail 3" longer, the chest measurement 3-4" bigger! I'm told that Rochester sells to a lot of NBA and NFL players, which is supposed to explain why LT does not equal LT. As mentioned earlier, I'm not deep enough for retail.
- OK, don't make me say you should listen to your customers.
Trying to get into the spirit of the (retail) season (that is, Fall), I ask my helpful Rochester sales person if she has any St. Croix sweaters. "No, we haven't carried them in a while. I sure wish we did!" I asked about a couple of other well known brands that I'd expect to see in an upscale store, and same answer, "No, I wish we did!" Which means of course that Rochester customers are asking for these and for some reason, Rochester corporate isn't getting the message.