How do you safely try on clothes during a pandemic? What happens to your returns? These are just two of the many questions retailers are grappling with as Texas businesses reopen. Governor Greg Abbott outlined a litany of safety guidelines for retailers and their customers.
As people try and buy their way out of boredom, companies are thirstier than ever for our attention and money. A quick scroll through your Instagram feels like walking through a cattle market. Fashion influencers flog discounted their affiliate links. Brands are dropping prices lower than ever. At least there is one constant during a pandemic: people are going to shop, whether it’s in person or online.
The Challenge of Trying on Clothes
Fort Worth-based clothing boutique Yours Truly was one of the few retailers that was offering curbside pickup before the pandemic. Now that the 4,500 square-foot downtown shop has reopened, manager Sara DiCinto said her regular customers are returning in a big way. She and her staff have taken measures to keep everyone safe.
“We’re letting customers use the dressing room, and of course cleaning and sanitizing it afterward,” she said. “We steam clean every article of clothing that’s tried on. We wear gloves and masks.”
In a study by First Insight, the firm illuminated how people are feeling about trying on clothes. The retail predictive analytics firm fielded 1,066 responses from consumers in April. The company found that 65 percent of women said they will not feel safe trying on clothes in dressing rooms due to the pandemic. Meanwhile, 54 percent of men will not feel safe. The study also found that 66 percent of women and 54 percent of men said they will not feel comfortable working with sales associates in retail stores.
As more shoppers have adjusted to online purchasing, local retailers are scrambling to reclaim those customers. The learning curve for local retailers is steep, as walk-in outlets learn how to adjust to low-touch customer service. The new normal for retailers will be to work with shoppers in a hands-free way. Retail employees are also being advised to keep their distance when possible.
Thanks to the size of her storefront, DiCinto said that social distancing hasn’t been a problem. Her staff stays within earshot of customers to field any questions.
“No one is being standoffish,” she said. “I think people are trying to find the new normal –– whatever that means. Customers are just excited not to be cooped up anymore.”
Another tough question facing retailers is what to do about returns. Clothing stores everywhere are being forced to adjust their return policies based on what they know about the virus. Researchers still don’t know how long this specific virus lives on various textiles like clothing. This hasn’t been properly tested, aside from a Journal of Hospital Infection study. The virus was found to remain infectious on a disposable gown for up to two days.
Local retailers are taking safety cues from national chains. Macy’s has said, as it reopens stores in phases, it will only leave open a few fitting rooms. The retailers will hold all merchandise tried on or returned for 24 hours. Kohl’s is closing all of its dressing rooms until further notice and is holding returned items for 48 hours. Gap is also closing its fitting rooms and holding returned merchandise for a day.
Consumer watchdogs have warned that you should make certain to ask about a store’s return policy before making any purchases. Most retailers have changed their policies, if only temporarily.