What was the problem?

A department store was experiencing a significant loss of revenue, mostly due to theft of garments from fitting rooms.

One of the challenges in solving this problem is that traditional loss-prevention measures, such as restricting customer access to merchandise, restrictive security tagging, visual deterrents such as signs and overt security presence are known to decrease sales.

How, then, to increase security without jeopardising customer experience and losing sales?

How did we reframe it?

From a focus on theft (and loss), to a focus on customer experience (and gain)

Department stores, like all bricks-and-mortar stores, are under increasing pressure from online and networked retailers who have significantly increased competition in the marketplace. A growing preference among customers for online shopping generally, but also for multi-modal shopping, has left physical stores scrambling to adapt.

Most department stores, including the subject organisation, sought to offer a multi-modal experience, to integrate online selling and social media networking more fully into the business and marketing strategies, and generally to increase ‘touch-points’ – opportunities for connection and communication – between themselves and customers. Physical retail shops have also sought to locate their point of competition, their unique advantages in the shopping experience. As the design team recognised, the primary advantage of in-person shopping is in the tactility, physicality, immediacy and comparatively sociability of the physical shopping experience: the opportunity to touch and feel, to be assisted and served by a human being; and, crucially, to test-drive before buying. In the apparel sector of the business, test-driving involves trying garments on. Therefore, one of the unique advantages of a physical shopping experience is to be found in the fitting room – the very location that, in this case, was bleeding the department store of revenue. Indeed, studies showed that fitting rooms still offered a leverage point for bricks-and mortar stores in the tense competition with online retail: research on purchasing behavior in department stores indicates customers who try on clothes more likely to buy them than customers who do not.

Thinking further about customer experience, the design team considered the traditional role and use of fitting rooms and their users. Necessarily private to protect shoppers’ modesty, fitting rooms in the department store context have nonetheless almost always included a lounge or foyer area. This area, ostensibly for waiting and thoroughfare, also offers/ed some promise of the opportunity for semi-public display. In a typical fitting room scenario, a shopper steps out of the cubicle into the lounge area wearing a new garment and asks their shopping companion how they look, or the attendant for a new size before disappearing back into the cubicle and emerging in something new. While some shoppers want to try things on privately, others enjoy the ritual of dressing privately and then being appraised by their companions in the common area, where there is often a larger mirror and more space to move. This is a kind of experience that can only be had in a store environment, particularly that of a department store, where both the sales floor and fitting room space are larger than normal.

Armed with these observations, our student design team ‘reframed’ the fitting rooms as the cornerstone of customer experience in the store, rather than a security threat, as they were initially presented. In this way, the design team came up with ideas that solved both the security problem and the sales problem, bringing together interactive technology, secure storage and a redesigned layout to make theft difficult but shopping enjoyable and, indeed to create a new customer retail experience for the department store.

Features of the design included:

– a console with interactive stylist (linked to a shopping loyalty program), to help shoppers make purchasing decisions and purchases.

– the repositioning of fitting room area into the middle of the shop floor, rather than along the periphery. Viewed through the new frame, the fitting rooms emerged as a place of significantly greater importance than previously: a place where people connect with products and the store brand, where customers make crucial purchasing decisions, and where shoppers should and would want to spend time. Locating the fitting rooms in the centre also increases natural surveillance which reduces likelihood of theft.

– redesign of the cubicles to be stylish but safe, requiring customers to place their bag in a transparent locker in the cubicle wall so that garments cannot be concealed among a shopper’s personal belongings. The locker also keeps shoppers’ belongings safe.

What was our impact?

The design team developed a high quality concept report to assist the client in conveying the work throughout the organization. Anecdotally the client indicates the project and concept report has opened up new conversations within the organisation about loss prevention. The concepts, particularly the interactive stylist, resonate with other projects within the organisation around multi-model shopping experiences. The client has a basis to engage and explore possibilities with sales, marketing and strategy divisions about the opportunities for both reducing shrinkage through the innovative positioning and use of technology within the store fitting rooms. These conversations, irrespective of the specific product elements discussed, are central to creating the change in orientation across the organization necessary for thinking differently and stimulating new opportunities for loss prevention.

**The content for this entry comes from 

Lulham, R.A. & Kaldor, L.J. 2013, ‘Creating alternative frames for a retail security problem: An application of Dorst’s Frame Creation model’, 5th IASDR 2013 TOKYO: 5th International Congress of International Association of Societies of Design Research, Shibaura Institute of Technology, Tokyo, Japan