The physical and social space in which a consumer finds herself is a large influencing factor on product evaluation and decision-making (Solomon & Rabolt, 2004:434). De Klerk (1999) states that, although most clothing consumers have a preconceived idea about where to go shopping for clothing and which type of clothing is desired, the final decision-making takes place within the store where consumers need information about the clothing products in order to evaluate the quality and to be able to make the final decision. It is said that retailers need to spend enough money, space and time on fitting rooms as the fitting room can be seen as the point and place where most apparel-based decisions are made (Lee & Johnson, sa:2). Fitting rooms are one of the critical areas in clothing stores; this is where the consumer tries on apparel products, makes evaluations about the products, and decisions to buy these apparel products or not (Rea, Mang & Underhill, as quoted by Baumstarck, 2008:12).
The research problem of this study is that in order for consumers to evaluate apparel products effectively and to make apparel buying decisions with which they can be satisfied, the fitting room experience plays a role. However, it is not known how consumers evaluate apparel products’ quality and how the fitting room experience should be in order for the consumers to evaluate the apparel products’ quality effectively. Therefore the purpose of this study was to explore and describe the role of the fitting room experience in Mzansi youth female consumers’ evaluation of
apparel products’ quality. The retail experience entails the aesthetic (stimulus, emotion and cognition) as well as functional (synchronising impressions, layout, space, service, furniture & fixtures) aspects. Evaluation of apparel quality comprises intrinsic, extrinsic and behavioural characteristics. The behavioural characteristics include the apparel products’ functional (durability, comfort and maintenance) and aesthetic (stimulus, emotion and cognition) qualities.
The justification for conducting this research was that this research could lead to the generation of new information. This information may be used by retailers to enhance the fitting room experience in order to make it easier for consumers to evaluate apparel products’ quality, so that the most appropriate apparel buying decisions can be made and customer satisfaction may be increased.
The confirmation/disconfirmation paradigm was used as theoretical perspective for the study. This paradigm was integrated with the literature and the relevant concepts to form the conceptual framework which directed the study. This study was conducted qualitatively where the aim was to explore and describe the phenomenon. Phenomenology was used as strategy of inquiry.
The Mzansi youth female consumers, who are part of the Black Diamond consumer group, were used as unit of analysis for this study, as the literature indicates that the Black Diamonds are the fastest growing consumer group within South Africa. Purposive and snowball sampling were used to accumulate the participants of the study. Fifteen females took part in this study. Fortunately data saturation did occur, so no more participants were needed.
The researcher used unstructured interviews to gather data as well as a photo-elicitation technique. The photos were used as an external stimulus in the interview process. This ensured data with depth and breadth. Two interviews (approximately 30 minutes each) were held with each participant. The second interview was only conducted after each participant had completed a specific task. The data was analysed by using the five steps suggested by Yin (2011:176).
The findings showed that the fitting room experience does play a crucial role in the Mzansi youth female consumer’s evaluation of apparel products’ quality. Furthermore it showed that the Mzansi youth female consumers do have clear expectations regarding the fitting room’s aesthetics and functionality, and also how these two elements should interact and should be in order for the Mzansi youth female consumer to be able to evaluate the apparel products’ quality effectively. The findings further showed that when these expectations are not met by the actual fitting room experience it leads to the Mzansi youth female consumer being dissatisfied and therefore stopping her evaluation of the apparel products’ quality or even leaving the store.
Therefore this study came to the overall conclusion that the fitting room is the place where the final decision to buy or not to buy is made, and where decisions about possible future visits are made, irrespective of the rest of the retail environment. It should therefore be treated like the queen of the apparel retail environment, and certainly not like the Cinderella.
Dissertation (MConsumer Science)--University of Pretoria, 2014.