Changing with the times

Pennie Varvarides went ‘up West’ to visit fitting rooms, where she encountered the best and worst that London’s retailers have to offer when customers try on their wares

Even today, most retailers overlook their fitting rooms. A single downlight in the middle of the ceiling is a common sight, shining directly onto the customer’s head. This leaves the shopper – who stands debating whether or not to spend money on a particular item – bathed in shadow.

People do not look good in such light. With only the tops of their heads, noses and shoulders lit, people look tired and older than they are.

The colours and textures of clothing are also misrepresented. Customers do not look as attractive as they could and this will stop them falling in love with the item – why spend money on something if you don’t look amazing?

Gary Campbell, a partner at dpa London, says: ‘Stores don’t want to spend money fitting lamps in changing rooms, but they should.’ He believes bad lighting can cost retailers a sale because it doesn’t show the customer at their best. ‘Retailers think the fitting room is just the back of the store, but it’s where they seal the deal.’

Doing it right

Some stores do it right, however. Campbell designed dimmable controls for Selfridges personal shopping department (right) that let customers see what items will look like under lighting that simulates conditions indoors in the evening or outdoors during the day – and everything in between.

The intelligent lighting is designed to create a luxurious environment. With four preset controls, the customer has an opportunity to see what they will look like in the item in different scenarios.
A backlit Barrisol panel inside a large custom-made circular ceiling feature conceals warm and cool light fluorescent lamps that can be cross-faded, changing from daylight to evening tungsten light.

Between the Barrisol and the mirror are at least two directional spotlights to accent the customer. The halogens have excellent colour rendering, revealing the texture and quality of the fabric.

A perimeter cove light incorporates fluorescent lamps in the slot detail, washing down the walls, creating a soft reflected light. T2s run down either side of the dressing table mirror. Campbell says these thin linear fluorescent sources were the best option at the time, but ‘we probably would use LEDs nowadays’.

What’s interesting is that the fitting rooms were designed five years ago, but Selfridges still tops the charts. Why hasn’t there been more changing room innovation in the past five years?

Our top five retailers took similar approaches to lighting their fitting rooms. They used front lighting, which ensures a balanced light, minimising shadows.

Lesley Batchelor, a designer at Studio DB, which worked on Fenwick’s changing rooms, says: ‘You want glowing indirect light in a fitting room, with as much backing light as possible to complement the skin and the clothes, while putting the customer at ease.

‘Because the store is so big, it wouldn’t work to make it uniform throughout, you don’t want a Marks & Spencer’s feel to it, where everything is the same.’

Wide-beam fittings in the Fenwick changing rooms, combined with downlights close to the walls and mirrors, illuminate what the customer is wearing.

Liberty, like Fenwick, offered different lighting for different changing rooms throughout the store. Changing rooms can be designed specifically for the clothing that customers will be trying on.

Doing it wrong

H&M was crowned the worst of the worst in fitting room lighting, showing everyone how not to do it.
As the customer attempts to form an opinion about the item that caught their eye on the shop floor, they are thwarted. The customer is bathed in shadow.

Perhaps the most common mistake when it comes to changing rooms is that ominous single downlight in the middle of the ceiling.

Mirror, mirror on the wall

It is important for retailers to get the lighting in this little room right if they want to maximise sales. After all, what is going to happen if the customer is looking in the mirror and doesn’t like what they see? They’ll discard the item before leaving for another store.

If customers can’t tell what an item looks like, they could be put off. Who hasn’t purchased a pair of black jeans then stepped outside only to discover they are blue?

Some retailers are thinking about this, and beginning to understand the impact of lighting. The Selfridges personal shopper department has gone beyond basic lighting design to create an environment in which the customer feels special, where they look amazing and where they can test the outfit in a lighting environment that mimics different times of day.

Shops in the high street have a battle on their hands: why should people visit a store when they can save time and money by buying things online? Today, customers must be convinced to visit a shop to try things on.

By putting more emphasis on fitting rooms, retailers can cement future deals. All the experts who spoke to Lux confirmed the importance of breaking old habits and going beyond the single overhead halogen downlight.

Getting the message across

The exhibition, conference and awards ceremony that is LuxLive is an opportunity to communicate the benefits of good lighting inside and outside the industry

Join the revolution!

There’s a revolution going on in lighting. And like all revolutions, it’s getting rid of the old order and bringing in the new.