Making Your Store Welcoming To Women

By Leah Stassen

Anyone who’s stepped into a women’s-specific store like Victoria’s Secret knows that there’s quite a difference between it and the local surf shop. Not only are they contrasting because of the obvious abundance of scanty panties or lack thereof, but because stores like Victoria’s Secret are entirely planned and designed to cater to women. These retailers know making a store welcoming to women requires analyzing not only how women shop, but why they shop.

According to Paco Underhill, author of Why We Buy: The Science Of Shopping, “For many women there are psychological and emotional aspects to shopping that are just plain absent in most men. In practical terms, this means one patently obvious, overarching thing: women demand more of their shopping environments than men do.

Shops that successfully cater to women are usually succeeding on both emotional and environmental (physical) levels. Obviously, surf shops aren’t going to push the glass and foam aside to make room for pink silk couches. However, by approaching the retail space with a few guidelines, simple changes can help attract and retain female shoppers, and thereby increase softgoods sales.

We’re, Like, So Emotional

Women have perspectives and body images that are entirely different from men, and it’s obvious almost everywhere in our culture. An old Special K cereal TV commercial portrayed men sitting around a bar talking, juxtaposed with shots of them trying on clothing, looking in the mirror, and asking things like, “Do I look fat in this? Does my butt look big in these jeans? It ended with a tag line something to the affect of “Look good on your own terms.

Essentially, the commercial was parodying the difference in men and women’s perception about clothing. Women shop on an emotional level, they buy things that help them emulate the person they want to be. “I have lived in this body all my life and know it better than any fashion designer; I’m only willing to purchase the item which becomes me, and to wear that which enhances my image of myself to myself, says poet Maya Angelou.

According the U.S. Census bureau, by 2010 there will be 26.8-million females aged twelve to 24. On average, teen girls spend 60-billion dollars each year and influence the purchases of 75-billion. Underhill writes, “For women, shopping is a transforming experience, a method of becoming a newer, perhaps even slightly improved person.

Stores that want the billions of dollars burning holes in purses across the country should help cater to a woman’s idealized image of themselves. For surf shops this means that while every young girl in your store is not the next Keala Kennelly or Malia Jones, they should all believe that they have the potential to be.

“Create a lifestyle around the products that you’re selling, recommends merchandisinghub.com Principal And Creator Sharon Leicham. “The simplest way to achieve this is by always cross-merchandising the women’s department. Near the racks of bikinis retailers should place items like surfboards, beach towels, sandals, hats, and other accessories. Or show a video like Blue Crush in the area.

Videos can captivate an audience, and the more time a woman lingers in your store, the better. Playing Blue Crush, or other movies that showcase or feature women surfing, can get your female customers in tune with the surfing lifestyle, and that can translate into more sales.

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Shops can also play to a woman’s emotional shopping experience by appealing to their athletic sides. “The secret to appealing to both juniors and women alike is through a casual-yet-stylish approach. Women want to look cute, athletic, and still be sophisticated, says Marcia Dacosta, merchandise and buying supervisor for the Surf Ride stores in Oceanside and Solana Beach, California. You only have to look at the predominant women’s fashion outfit of 2003 — the matching velour, hooded sweatshirt, d flared pant — to see that women and teens are approaching fashion with an athletic yet feminine ideal.

Nike took this desire to look good while maintaining high levels of comfort into account when designing its boutique-like NIKEgoddess stores. “In contrast to the NikeTown stores, which bring customers into a world of adrenaline and excitement, NIKEgoddess offers a place where athleticism is worn with well-being and style, reads one press release from the brand.

“We wanted to speak to the female consumer in a specific voice, reiterates Nike Public Relations Spokesperson Ilana Finley. “The stores really bring Nike to the women who want something that’s both functional and beautiful.

Nike’s approach appeals to the shopping women’s emotional desires through a number of levels. The woman who is shopping in NIKEgoddess can be athletic yet stylish. She is able to project a fit lifestyle — even if she doesn’t totally live it — and she can be that idealized version of herself.

Another thing to consider when catering to women is simply making women feel comfortable in the store. Surf shops have one huge advantage for retaining female shoppers because they do one thing that a lot of women’s specific stores don’t — cater to males. Yeah, this seems weird, but think about it: How many times have you seen a couple walk into a clothing store, and the girl looks at a couple of things, holds them up to her boyfriend, and then walks back out almost as quickly as they walked in? Contrast the time the couple will spend in a store to that of a woman shopping alone or with a friend.

“Across the board, how much customers buy is a direct result of how much time they spend in a store, writes Underhill. “When two women shop together, they talk, advise, suggest, and consult. Alone she makes efficient use of her time, but with him, sensing his antsyness, she spends the entire trip feeling anxious and rushed.

By being a traditionally male space, surf stores have the ultimate advantage over this phenomenon. With a product assortment that appeals to both sexes, your female customers may feel more able to wander through the clothing racks — or surfboard display for that matter.

However, the placement and arrangement of the women’s department are super important. The physical layout of the area should make her comfortable. If it’s not, she’ll turn around and act antsy herself.

Oh, And We’re Pretty Conscious Of Our Physical Environment

The shops that are completely successful at catering to women do so by making them physically — and emotionally — comfortable. The floor layout, dressing rooms, lighting, color scheme, merchandising, and actual feel of the store should all be designed with women in mind.

First, keep store aisles uncrowded to give shoppers plenty of room to breathe. “You can’t crowd a woman and think she’s going to linger, writes Underhill. He urges retailers to consider the “butt-brush factor. “Women feel discomfort when they are jostled from the rear while shopping. They have a general aversion to examining merchandise that’s below waist level.

Instead of crowding clothing onto multileveled racks, retailers should try to use chest-level displays. This height allows customers to reach comfortably for items, while still being able to see across the store. This alone can make your store seem bigger.

Secondly, examine the many ways that color factors into a department. While chest-level racks are ideal, if you place a dark colored or extremely bright colored shirt on the front, it can distract a customer’s eye. Dacosta also recommends placing lighter colored garments on the top of folded stacks or the outsides of racks: “Softer colors are easier to look at, as they break up the light in the store.

Color should also be considered in regards to merchandising. “Women shop by color — they usually know if they want a red or a black T-shirt, says Leicham. “I suggest that retailers create a color grouping and then do the sizing within that group rather than by screenprints or size.

However, as Dacosta points out, within the surf industry it’s also incredibly important to merchandise by label. “The young girls who are coming in to our store definitely look at the labels, she says. “They want to know if the clothes are from Volcom, Billabong, or Hurley, she says. By incorporating both a color grouping and a brand separation, stores can maximize their retail space.

The third and most important component of a successful women’s department is its dressing rooms. Unfortunately, this tends to be the most ignored. “Almost all of women’s purchasing decisions will occur inside a dressing room, says Leicham. Therefore, at the very least the dressing room should be comfortable to change in, easy to find, and flattering.

“They should be well-lit, but fluorescent lights are a huge no-no, Leicham continues. “Use only incandescent light and at the very least provide one mirror, a bench or chair, and plenty of room to turn around in. There should also be more than one hook inside the dressing room to hang their own clothes and the clothes they plan to try on.

Additionally, pay attention to the color. Light reflects off the walls of your dressing room, and warm, flattering colors will help reflect a healthy skin complexion. This is especially important in bikini sales — most women try on swimwear before they’re tan.

Also provide a box of facial tissues or disposable g-strings for those trying on bathing suits — they will not try them on with underwear and the suit needs to be protected.

Finally, one of the easiest places for salespeople to close sales with women is when they’re in the dressing room. “They { women in a dressing room} are captives in a very small space with nothing on their minds but the desire to buy something that will make them beautiful, writes Underhill.

At this point the shopper has already narrowed down the store into a handful of those items she thinks will help her become that idealized, athletic, attractive, sophisticated woman. Urge her along. Remember the statistics about women shopping alone versus those with a female companion? There is no one more suited to become this single woman’s shopping buddy than the ultra-cool, friendly, female surf-shop employee.

This of course requires a couple of things. First, having female employees on the sales floor. Next, educate them on some of the rules of customer service. These are basic: Escort a customer to the dressing room — look at their choices and get excited for them. While the customer is in the dressing room, clerks should check up on them at least once to make sure they don’t need a different size or color.

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Underhill even suggests finding accessory items that go well with the items the woman has already taken in to try on: “When the customer is in the dressing room, he or she is in total buying mode. But instead of taking advantage of that moment, most stores squander it. The well-trained sales clerk should recognize this moment and help close the sale.

While most of these rules and suggestions to make women feel comfortable in your store may seem simple, understanding the intricacies of women’s shopping habits can give you insight when it comes time to rearrange for back-to-school. A fresh coat of paint, new dressing-room doors, light bulbs, racks, and employee training can make all the difference in encouraging a woman customer to come back again and again, or having her decide to forgo your shop in favor of another.

Observe some of the bigger chains. Watch women shopping in a mall. Go back to Victoria’s Secret. Look around, get some ideas, and, please, stop feeling those panties.

_____________________________________

Leah Stassen is the managing editor of SNOWboarding Business. Previous to that position, she was a specialty snowboard/surf shop sales-floor associate and buyer for seven years.uping and then do the sizing within that group rather than by screenprints or size.

However, as Dacosta points out, within the surf industry it’s also incredibly important to merchandise by label. “The young girls who are coming in to our store definitely look at the labels, she says. “They want to know if the clothes are from Volcom, Billabong, or Hurley, she says. By incorporating both a color grouping and a brand separation, stores can maximize their retail space.

The third and most important component of a successful women’s department is its dressing rooms. Unfortunately, this tends to be the most ignored. “Almost all of women’s purchasing decisions will occur inside a dressing room, says Leicham. Therefore, at the very least the dressing room should be comfortable to change in, easy to find, and flattering.

“They should be well-lit, but fluorescent lights are a huge no-no, Leicham continues. “Use only incandescent light and at the very least provide one mirror, a bench or chair, and plenty of room to turn around in. There should also be more than one hook inside the dressing room to hang their own clothes and the clothes they plan to try on.

Additionally, pay attention to the color. Light reflects off the walls of your dressing room, and warm, flattering colors will help reflect a healthy skin complexion. This is especially important in bikini sales — most women try on swimwear before they’re tan.

Also provide a box of facial tissues or disposable g-strings for those trying on bathing suits — they will not try them on with underwear and the suit needs to be protected.

Finally, one of the easiest places for salespeople to close sales with women is when they’re in the dressing room. “They { women in a dressing room} are captives in a very small space with nothing on their minds but the desire to buy something that will make them beautiful, writes Underhill.

At this point the shopper has already narrowed down the store into a handful of those items she thinks will help her become that idealized, athletic, attractive, sophisticated woman. Urge her along. Remember the statistics about women shopping alone versus those with a female companion? There is no one more suited to become this single woman’s shopping buddy than the ultra-cool, friendly, female surf-shop employee.

This of course requires a couple of things. First, having female employees on the sales floor. Next, educate them on some of the rules of customer service. These are basic: Escort a customer to the dressing room — look at their choices and get excited for them. While the customer is in the dressing room, clerks should check up on them at least once to make sure they don’t need a different size or color.

[IMAGE 2]

Underhill even suggests finding accessory items that go well with the items the woman has already taken in to try on: “When the customer is in the dressing room, he or she is in total buying mode. But instead of taking advantage of that moment, most stores squander it. The well-trained sales clerk should recognize this moment and help close the sale.

While most of these rules and suggestions to make women feel comfortable in your store may seem simple, understanding the intricacies of women’s shopping habits can give you insight when it comes time to rearrange for back-to-school. A fresh coat of paint, new dressing-room doors, light bulbs, racks, and employee training can make all the difference in encouraging a woman customer to come back again and again, or having her decide to forgo your shop in favor of another.

Observe some of the bigger chains. Watch women shopping in a mall. Go back to Victoria’s Secret. Look around, get some ideas, and, please, stop feeling those panties.

_____________________________________

Leah Stassen is the managing editor of SNOWboarding Business. Previous to that position, she was a specialty snowboard/surf shop sales-floor associate and buyer for seven years.