- Many consumers are going to think twice about venturing to the mall to try on clothes in a fitting room because of the coronavirus pandemic.
- Retailers are scrambling to figure out how to work around this.
- Solutions range from reserving sanitized fitting rooms to window shopping.
You might be thinking twice about venturing to the mall to try on clothes in a fitting room, because of the coronavirus pandemic.
You're not alone.
Sixty-five percent of women said they will not feel safe trying on clothes in dressing rooms, due to the Covid-19 crisis, according to a survey by retail predictive analytics company First Insight. The firm fielded 1,066 responses from consumers on April 30. Meantime, 54% of men will not feel safe using dressing rooms, the survey found. Sixty-six percent of women, and 54% of men, said they will not feel comfortable working with sales associates in retail stores.
"The coronavirus has moved the industry away from high-touch to low-touch," First Insight Chief Executive Greg Petro said.
"The 'new normal' for retailers will be to work with shoppers in a hands-free way to help them to find what they need while also giving them the space to feel comfortable, particularly with high-risk groups," he said. "Not feeling safe trying on clothing also begs many questions on how retailers and brands will need to adapt their return and exchange policy in the coming weeks."
Retailers, especially those that sell apparel, are already scrambling to figure this out.
Macy's has said, as it reopens stores in phases, it will only leave open a few fitting rooms and will hold all merchandise tried on or returned for 24 hours. Kohl's is closing all of its dressing rooms until further notice and is holding returned items for 48 hours. Gap is also closing its fitting rooms and holding returned merchandise for a day.
"Our whole goal is to be the gold standard when it comes to safe retaining," Gap Chief Executive Sonia Syngal said in an interview.
Still, analysts do not view these strategies as feasible for the longer term.
More permanent options are being explored, such as a sanitizing system made by Indiana-based Global Ozone Innovations, which promises to clean garments using ozone-based technology within one hour, with 99.95% certainty that all bacteria and viruses are killed. A university is currently testing the sanitizing system against Covid-19 specifically, Matt Kain, the company's executive vice president, said.
Killing Covid-19 with ultraviolet light is another option retailers are looking at, according to lighting company Healthe, which said it is in talks with a number of major retailers about deploying its products in stores or backrooms. Fred Maxik, a former NASA scientist and Healthe's founder and chief scientific officer, has developed what he claims is the first-ever human-safe far-UVC technology to combat coronavirus.
"At the end of the day, in the new normal, we are going to have to consider human safety," Maxik said in an interview.
According to the First Insight survey, about 49% of millennials said they would not feel safe trying on clothes in dressing rooms after the pandemic. But the percentage was much higher for baby boomers, at 71%.
Other smaller apparel retailers are getting creative on their own, hoping customers will feel somewhat safer when they return to stores.
Men's suit maker Suitsupply is installing standing partitions in its stores as they reopen, which it says allow for "safe up-close interaction," for people who still need to have their pants or jackets fitted and tailored. It is also allowing customers to book fitting rooms, or private shopping suites, by appointment, which it says will be sterilized beforehand.
Meantime, some store employees from men's apparel brand Bonobos are turning their social media accounts into virtual shops, showing off styles and various outfits online, then directing people to buy them on the web.
"How do you bring the best of a real-world experience into a digital experience?" Bonobos Chief Executive Micky Onvural said in an interview. "If [consumers] didn't want to get off the couch before, now they are even less likely to walk into a store ... if they can have that same kind of service online."
Literal "window shopping" for clothes might also be making a comeback — if consumers feel safer standing and browsing outside stores, on the sidewalks of Manhattan, than they do venturing inside.
"Window shopping is becoming the new Facebook advertising," said Jay Norris, chief executive officer of retail technology company Guesst. He is advising clients on how they should strategically stock their window displays post-Covid-19. "That is going to become very relevant."
Mixology, a boutique teen apparel shop on the Upper East Side of New York, has been shut for weeks because of the pandemic. But mannequins stand fully clothed in new garb, including punk rock tees, in the windows. And a sign over the door reads: "See something you like in the window? Feel free to text or call," with the shopkeepers' phone numbers listed below.