When changing rooms become charging rooms

I feel like I hardly ever shop in stores anymore. I ventured out a couple of weeks ago to visit the new Zara store but apart from that I find myself increasingly shopping at midnight from the safety of my bed. It’s fun, convenient, cures insomnia and as an added bonus, you avoid hideous changing rooms and nonchalant sales staff.

Surprisingly a recent household study has found that cheaper prices were not the sole reason for consumers to buy online. Nearly three-quarters (74 per cent) of the people surveyed cited convenience as the top reason for shopping online, followed by cheaper prices at 34 per cent. Did I mention I shop in bed?

These statistics are not such good news for Australian retailers, as they scramble to find new methods of keeping our dollars here, such as introducing a GST on overseas purchases over $1000 and this latest one, charging customers a trying-on fee.

According to the Courier Mail, a Sydney ski store is charging 50 bucks to try on ski boots (redeemable when said boots are purchased) and now Queensland store owners also want a slice of this retail pie.

“Shoppers could soon be forking out hefty fees to try on shoes, garments or sports gear as defiant retailers turn the tables on online shopping competition. Specialist store owners are sick of offering top-level service to customers who leave the store empty-handed and then buy online at discounted prices.”

But c’mon, can’t they see this would surely backfire… if it’s hard enough to lure us away from our screens and into stores, what makes them think we would now pay for the privilege? Why would you pay $50 to try something on, when you could buy it cheaper online with free shipping and potentially return it for less than that if it wasn’t suitable? Retailers have long charged over-inflated prices purely because consumers didn’t have any other option. As a result, customers don’t feel like they have to be loyal to one brand or store anymore and it’s time retailers got up to speed.

Justine Cullen & Paula Joye at fashion week

Editor of Shop Til You Drop magazine, Justine Cullen believes that traditional retailers need to do more to draw consumers in to be competitive in this tough climate by creating experiences such as in-store events and personal styling, not charging trying-on fees.

“I think it’s ridiculous and they’ll only be damaging their own bottom lines. Before they came out complaining that consumers were trying things on in-store before purchasing them online, I didn’t know anyone who had actually done that. It would have to be a tiny segment of the market who are using that strategy and everyone else will have to pay. No-one will bother trying things on and they’ll just have to put on more staff to deal with the returns,” Cullen says.

ADVERTISEMENT editor Paula Joye thinks charging trying on fees may work for sporting and specialist stores, but would be the kiss of death for fashion retail.

“Shopping is about fun and experimenting – not being charged for the experience.  One of the great things about actual shopping versus virtual shopping is customer service – charging a fee to try on clothing is a total removal of that.”

Both Paula Joye and Justine Cullen face challenges in promoting fashion from both Australian and International retailers. Lifestyled recently showcased the best from Australian Fashion Week, but Paula Joye also has a responsibility to bring her readers the best shopping information available – even if it means promoting US stores.

The May issue of Shop til you Drop

“The strong US dollar has meant that there are genuine bargains to be found off-shore. I’m taking advantage of it – of course my readers are doing the same,” Joye says.

When Justine Cullen edited the May ‘everything available online’ issue of Shop til you Drop, she received backlash and criticism from some members of the retail industry.

“A couple of retailers heard about the issue and campaigned me heavily to drop the idea. They were incredibly aggressive and dramatic about it – saying I would be personally accountable for thousands of lost jobs in the retail sector,” Cullen says.

Ironically it was the statistics that were put to Cullen by the retailers that convinced her the issue would be a success.

“Unfortunately many of their arguments for me to not do the issue – such as that 25% of Shopbop’s international sales come from Australia – only indicated to me that I was right to be doing it: if that’s where our readers are shopping, I wouldn’t be doing my job properly if I didn’t acknowledge it.”

For most shoppers it seems that a combination of finding a bargain and not having to deal with parking or bad customer service are the drivers to shop online. What drives you to buy online? And would you pay a trying-on fee?

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