Experiential Shopping: What Apparel Stores Can Learn From Shoe Stores

Living in the middle of New York City, I have the opportunity to browse a lot of stores. One thing that continues to stand out for me is how difficult it is for apparel retailers to make their stores or their products feel truly special or unique. Whether it's Zara, H&M, Uniqlo or any of the hundreds of other apparel stores, they all feature rack after rack and shelf after shelf of clothes that include multiple sizes of the same product.

The result is that shoppers are confronted by a combination of a ton of material to sort through based on a limited set of real options. This leads to a sort of browsing process that leaves all of the clothes feeling vaguely interchangeable and certainly not special or unique.

By placing all available sizes of all available sizes out on the floor, retailers are also limited by how they can showcase individual products. I would guess that less than 10% of an apparel retailer's stock is ever being properly displayed in a manner which makes the item feel desirable.

Now compare this to shoe stores. Shoe stores have one example of each product on display. This immediately makes each product special and thus more desirable. It also immediately offers a far wider range of options for display which has led to a real explosion of experiential design especially in the sneaker market.

From a shopper's perspective, seeking the perfect shoe becomes more like visiting a museum or a gallery. One is able to consider each shoe and the retailer can heighten the experience for specific shoes depending on internal goals and objectives.

Adding to the experience, every time a shopper wants a personal experience with a shoe they also get a personal experience with a store employee. This offers many opportunities for the sorts of human exchanges that differentiates shopping a store from shopping online.

Clearly, there are some fundamental differences between shoes and apparel but there is plenty of reasonable technology that should allow apparel retailers to move stock off the floor and increase direct interaction between shoppers and employees. The newly opened up spaces would allow for entirely new ways to showcase individual items and to easily display the store's entire range.

The end result would be a a long overdue evolution to the experience of shopping for clothes.