You certainly can’t beat Wellington on a good day.
The little, wooden houses nestled in the hills don’t look cold and damp, but quaint and cheerful. The water glistens around Oriental Parade. People are cheerful.
So was I, for an only-too-brief time on Monday. I thought the sunny day must be a sign of good times to come. Even better, I had a whole hour and half of designated shopping time in the morning between work meetings.
As a working mum, this was exciting stuff. Normally I shop in 15-minute windows, where I rush wildly into a shop, snatch whatever garment I have researched online, try it on (maybe), pay for it and run out – like a mad hinterland goat.
Oh but an hour and a half. The plan was to get a couple of select designer second-hand shirts or pants from Cuba St, and some basic tops and leggings from Cotton On. Not too ambitious, right?
I walked leisurely into a boutique shop on Cuba St that sold upcycled second-hand clothes, and found some Ralph Lauren pants, a cute white hand-knitted cardigan, and a vintage 1970s shirt. I was winning.
Yet, yet, alas, then I went to the changing rooms – if you can call them that.
The threadbare red curtain didn’t close properly by a good 30 cm. The area was lit by florescent light. My younger, svelte 25-year-old self would have stripped off and not cared too much. My older 37-year-old self, having had two kids, was not so keen.
When I tried the cardigan it had three holes I hadn’t noticed when I saw it on the rack. The Ralph Lauren pants didn’t fit. The shirt looked ridiculous. I left, and the sales assistant smiled wanly at me. Okay, so maybe I wasn’t their waspish, 20-something market, but still, if given a changing room with a locked door, and some nice lighting – I may have stayed and tried something else.
Onwards I strode to familiar Cotton On in Manners St. At least I knew what to expect there.
But, did I? I chose my clothes, and went to the changing rooms at the back of the store. I opened the door, and went to put up my bags and coat, and found holes where the hooks used to be. I was surprised I found the holes, because it was so dimly lit.
To be fair, there was a sales assistant moving boxes around in the changing rooms next to me, and they may have been renovating. Yet, it still would have been nice to have somewhere to put my things.
I tried on a hoody and by squinting my eyes; I thought it looked like a good fit. It was guesswork. I didn’t want to ask for the opinion of the sales assistant either as she sounded like she was coughing up a lung doing whatever she was doing.
I wondered briefly if the inner city Wellington district was having a laugh, and any moment, somebody was going to pop out of a cake, and usher us shoppers off to changing rooms with flattering light, a glass of champagne on arrival and our choice of music.
I bought the hoody, but left, feeling – well, neglected. I made a mental note not to return to those shops any time soon.
It appears changing rooms are so easy to forget in favour of dressing up the front window or investing in other aspects of a store. Yet they are a key part of good customer service, and a massive aid in boosting sales.
I know independents don’t have the deep pockets of a chain store, but there are always little things you can do to make a space more appealing.
There are of course, many Wellington retailers out there who recognise that a shopper’s overall experience develops loyalty.
Bendon’s flagship store on Willis Street has cavernous changing rooms with nice lighting, hooks for your items and a system for summoning assistants unobtrusively.
Farmers is in the midst of refurbishing the changing rooms across its 60 stores, making them larger, well appointed with multiple hooks and mirrors, and with seats for customers and those with them outside in the waiting area.
Head of marketing Dean Cook said the sales attendants are there to help the customers if they need another size or taking something away, but will try not be too obtrusive.
“When it comes to fashion, customers want to feel safe and secure – it’s just a standard requirement of customer service to provide a pleasant environment,” he says.
So dear retailers - go forth and buy material that covers the changing space in your store. Most people don’t want to be in a peep show. Invest in good lighting. Invest in hooks. It shows customers that you care about them and the experience they have in your store.