Mannequins Make Shopping Better?


Last week, the Wall Street Journal posted a piece on how mannequins have changed in retail environments. Mannequins are sculpted into less traditional poses, the faces display different makeup looks via magnetic features, technology is incorporated to display or push product information and "realistic" features such as crows feet and tattoos allegedly help sell more clothes. The Wall Street Journal states that these changes to mannequins are all part of an "ever-intensifying push to get consumers more excited about shopping in stores rather than online." In order to address the issue of encouraging consumers to shop in-store versus online there are a few questions that must be considered. For instance, what is it about the in-store experience that brings value to the consumer? More importantly, what does the in-store experience provide that an online experience cannot? 

Obviously the benefits of shopping in a physical space vary depending on the retailer and types of goods being purchased. The reasons people go Target are very different from the reasons they go to Bergdorf Goodman. But the Wall Street Journal keyed in on one specific component that can be applied to all retailers--excitement. 

According to the article, Target doesn't make use of many mannequins but is testing them in certain stores as a means to help consumers bypass the dressing room. Showing clothes on mannequins save shoppers time by providing ideas for different outfits. There's an assumption that shoppers want to skip the dressing room. What if they don't? What if shoppers enjoy looking at and trying on clothes but have other (necessary) items they need to pick up in the store? For instance, it's possible that mothers of young children would rather spend 15 minutes browsing for a new outfit than picking up toothpaste and toilet paper. Perhaps Target could flip the roles around and let the consumer take the time to look around and try on clothes by having a store associate grab the other items the consumer needs. This would allow the consumer to bypass the 'must-do' part of shopping and spend more time on the 'want-to-do'. Obviously this kind of initiative requires more training and communication than placing mannequins in the store. Creating and executing this kind of service would require system-wide changes. But, for harried mothers, this might be the difference between preferring to shop at Target and exclusively shopping at Target. 

In a department store like Bergdorf Goodman, the mannequins inspire a shopper's imagination. The mannequins represent an identity that the consumer may want to emulate. They're creative, fun, interesting, or even edgy. Luxury retailers tend to focus on, not only the quality of the goods in their stores, but on providing personalized service to their customers. Some research shows that most luxury purchases are still made in-store but others argue that this is mainly because high-end brands haven't embraced e-commerce. In Bergdorf's case, does the excitement need to be created inside the stores or could it attract new customers and increase loyalty by creating more ways for customers to receive comparable shopping experiences outside of the store walls and outside of store hours? 

Retailers are recognizing the need to innovate. Mannequins may help boost sales but service and experience design will lead to innovations that impact the brand in more substantial ways.  

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