Retail fail: why men hate clothes shopping

Marketers often say that men find shopping for clothes frustrating and alienating. It’s almost as though the entire process was designed for women, if you believe the stereotypes.

Some very clever online businesses have sprung up based on this premise, making it easier for men to find clothes they want without having to go through an embarrassing ordeal.

I’m not like that, generally. Over the years I’ve found a few good shops and clothing labels that usually have stuff I like that fits me, where they don’t have crappy dance music at eardrum-bursting volume and where the staff are helpful and unpretentious.

Most of the time.

Not so this weekend, though, when I visited a very large department store in the CBD, renowned for its quality products and customer service.

Me: This is a nice shirt. Do you have one in my size?

Fashion retail person #1: (Flips through rack) No.

Me: Yes, I already looked there, that’s why I asked you. (Waits for fashion retail person to make helpful suggestion.)

Fashion retail person #1: (Starts sorting clothes hangers.)

In case you’re wondering, yes, at this point I checked if I could buy it online. The manufacturer had very pretty website that took 10 minutes to load on the iPhone (Yay Vodafone!) and, of course, no ecommerce capability. So, half an hour of fruitless shirt shopping later, I was back where I started, with a different person.

Me: This is a nice shirt. Could you please check if you have it in my size?

Fashion retail person #2: Yes, but I’m pretty sure all the stock we have is on the rack. I’ll check. (Goes out back)

Me: Well?

Fashion retail person #2: No.

Me: That’s a pity. Do any of your other stores have it in my size?

Fashion retail person #2: Let me see. (Twiddles computer) Yes, Chatswood. Can you get to Chatswood?

Me: It is not convenient. Can the Chatswood store send it here?

Fashion retail person #2: No. (Complicated explanation, I didn’t really pay attention after ‘no’.)

Me: Alright, I will take some time out of my work day to pick it up from Chatswood tomorrow, but only if they put it away so someone else doesn’t buy it before I get there.

Fashion retail person #2: (Spends 15 minutes on phone trying to find person in Chatswood store) I spoke to Alex, he said he’ll put it aside, but you have to get it tomorrow.

Me: OK.

The next day, in Chatswood…

Me: I had a shirt put away yesterday. Could you get it for me?

Fashion retail person #3: Hmm… I can’t find it. Was it a BRAND A shirt?

Me: No, it was BRAND B.

Fashion retail person #3: Oh! You need to go over to the BRAND C counter!

Me: (Goes to next counter) I had a shirt put away yesterday. Could you get it for me?

Fashion retail person #4: I can’t find it anywhere. Who put it away for you?

Me: I think his name was Alex.

Fashion retail person #4: Oh, ALEX. It doesn’t look like he put it away.

Me: (Speaking in the spirit of Homer Simpson trying not to swear, “Oh, fudge. That’s . . . broken. Fiddle dee dee. That will require a tetanus shot.” ) That is . . . unfortunate. I can see it over there on the shelf. Perhaps there’s still one in my size.

Fashion retail person #4: Here’s one.

Me: This has “XL” written in biro on the cardboard label but “L” on the shirt label. Are you sure it’s XL?

Fashion retail person #4: Oh yes, they found it was the wrong size and it’s really XL.

Me: Wouldn’t I better off getting this one over here that says “XL” on both labels?

Fashion retail person #4: Sure, if you like.

This is the hardest I have ever had to work to buy something, other than a car or property. Can anyone spot the dozen or so places along the way where the retailer made it harder for me to buy the shirt than it needed to be? And was it really such a nice shirt that it was worth all the aggro to get it?

How do businesses survive, treating customers with contempt? Is it only because all their competitors do the same? Surely there must be a huge opportunity for shops that sell clothes and help their customers buy them!

3 Comments Add yours

  1. When I lived in London (sorry, as you read on you will find there is an excuse for starting this comment in such a wanky way) I loved buying clothes, because the UK (and the USA, FWIW) has mens clothing vendors who sell nice things at reasonable prices.GAP, Mexx, H&M and others offer a pleasant environment, a casual rather than fashion-oriented atmosphere, lots of clothes in solid colours or simple patterns and products with impressive durability. I therefore bought more clothes, more often, and enjoyed dressing up more when I lived in the UK than at any other time in my life.Australian menswear, IMHO, is often tattty (Tarocash, for example, uses the most obscure and cheap fabrics imaginable and its clothes wear very poorly) and ugly by comparison, or expensive: Country Road stuff is nice, but way more than I want to pay for casual wear. Ditto RM Williams, some of whose prices are flabbergasting ($90 polo shirts, WTF?).Rumour suggests GAP and H&M will open stores in ther redeveloped Pitt St Mall. I suspect they will earn plenty of my custom.

  2. Josh Mehlman says:

    Agreed. I buy a lot of stuff (socks and PJs and such, not high fashion) from Marks & Spencer online and get it shipped and it's still cheaper than buying it here, and better quality.

  3. Simon Rumble says:

    H&M offer a pleasant environment? I only visited a single store (Oxford Street) during my six years in London, and I vowed never to return. The queue just to try on clothes was 20 minutes long, staff nowhere to be found for assistance, and when you finally found something that fit (their sizes were random — some bigger sized things were smaller than the next size down in another model), there was another 20 minute queue to actually pay. I was tempted to walk out without paying, since there wasn't a soul on the shop floor to notice me stealing, but I don't do that so I just walked out without the goods.The UK is no paragon of virtue in this regard. Though I do miss Uniqlo

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