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Making lighting work for the modern fitting room experience

Despite the growing popularity of shopping online over visiting physical retail stores, the capacity to ‘try before you buy’ remains a key motivator for high street customers and is an experience e- commerce has yet to replicate.

However, many of us find contact with public fitting rooms uncomfortable and less than enjoyable—cramped space, irritable heat and unflattering lighting do not always make for a pleasant time. One bad fitting room experience is all it takes to put someone off returning to a store.

Yet this is a missed opportunity for retailers to make an impression with customers, as research suggests 60% of purchasing decisions happen in the fitting room, and shoppers who try on garments are seven times more likely to make a purchase than those who just browse the shop floor.Instead of treating these spaces as subordinate add-ons to the main store, retailers should tap into the hidden potential of fitting rooms for improving the shopping experience and winning over much- needed customers.

Lighting is one of the most essential components to a good or bad fitting room experience. Just as shop floor illuminations can accentuate and distract, lighting in dressing cubicles can have a powerful impact on shoppers’ perceptions of products and attitudes towards brands in general. Rob Holroyd, Digital Marketing Manager at LampShopOnline, said: “Lighting is a powerful influence on a consumer’s shopping habits. It can be used to create an atmosphere, encourage purchases and influence emotions.”

What to do

Before investing in state-of-the-art retail technology, consider getting the basics right first. Combined with suitable full-length mirrors—ideally several per fitting room positioned at every angle—good, practical lighting is enough to become noteworthy among regular shoppers, who have been known to spread the word about such rarities through selfies and posts on social media.

Backlit mirrors or frontal lighting along the sides of fitting room walls distribute the light more evenly and eliminate the appearance of blotchy skin, allowing the shopper a more realistic picture of how the garment will look outside of the store environment.

Consider also combining these fixtures with overhead lights for complete coverage—useful for inspiring confidence in customers. A thoughtful approach to design should include lights with a high colour rendering index (CRI) of 90+. CRI is a method of measuring a light source’s ability to reflect the true colour of an object when compared with a natural light source.

Unlike other light sources, LED bulbs have a high CRI rating and emit a daylight-like hue which reflects the ‘true’ aesthetics of the clothes being tried on. They’re also very energy efficient, keeping running costs down while also helping customers inspect their clothing choices.

Retailers should also be mindful of the demographics of their shoppers. Studies suggest that women spend an average 22 minutes trying on seven pieces of clothing per shopping trip in comparison to men’s five minutes trying on three pieces, and only purchase one of these seven items.

So although attention should be paid to the fitting rooms for all genders, lighting for spaces used by women should accentuate the contours of their bodies and accurately reflect the fit and flow of the garments they try on, to encourage that final purchase and reduce the chance of returns.

Elderly customers also have a different set of considerations when it comes to lighting. Light levels are increasingly important to older people as less light reaches the retina of those in their later years. It has been suggested that light levels for older people should be at least 50% brighter than would be comfortable for those of a younger age.

Fitting rooms should therefore be equipped with bulbs of the appropriate wattage, high CRI and adequate intensity, enabling older customers to discern the colour of products and enjoy their shopping experience without unnecessary visual strain.

What to avoid

Bad lighting in fitting rooms can deceive customers into buying a product they think suits them, only to make a swift return when it doesn’t match up in the real world. Even worse, fault-finding fixtures can make customers look and feel worse than when they first entered the store.

Whether at the high or low end of the market, stores should avoid overhead lights with harsh fluorescent bulbs. Without support from other light sources, these can cast uncomplimentary shadows on the face and body which shoppers regularly complain highlight imperfections they would rather not see.

The bright hue and blue tones of fluorescent lights create an unnatural appearance that doesn’t reflect the true colours and contrasts of both the garments being tried on and the shopper’s own complexion—defeating the point of visiting a fitting room in the first place.

Similarly, dim or insufficient lighting can result in frustrated shoppers who, despite liking the garments in question, leave the store feeling dissatisfied and unlikely to return. Dark lighting has its place in retail—on the shop floor for example, to create ambience or a sense of luxury—but not in the fitting room where visibility is a must.

So when it comes to lighting fitting rooms, it’s important to strike the right balance between angle, colour and harshness – but always with the customer and their needs in mind.

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