I recently saw a news article about a surprising innovation in my home country: fitting rooms at the post office. What does fashion have to do with shipping packages? You guessed it, ecommerce returns. Why would I want to change and try on clothes in a post office? Well, in some cases it could make sense. Beyond the unique aspect of this move, I thought it was a good reminder of why local specificities still matter in an ever more connected ecommerce world.
La Poste Innovative Initiative
In an attempt to adapt to the growing trend of online shopping, La Poste, France’s national postal service, is experimenting with fitting rooms in some of its Paris branches. This allows customers to try on clothes immediately after collecting them from the post office, saving shoppers time and reducing the need for return trips when items don’t fit.
The fitting rooms, distinctively designed in the shape and canary yellow color of a French mailbox, are equipped with what you’d find in your favorite clothing store’s fitting room: chairs, mirrors, and shelves for convenient on-the-spot returns. This experiment follows La Poste’s observation that many customers would pick up parcels and return shortly because the items were unsuitable.
One of La Poste’s current challenges is the declining letter traffic. Focusing on ecommerce is a way to generate revenue by improving the parcel business. By installing these fitting rooms, La Poste aims to simplify customer experiences, save their time, and potentially increase traffic to their branches. The initial phase of this experiment only involves a few select offices in Paris, but the company has plans to extend to other locations like Valenciennes, Saint-Etienne, and Amiens.
Finally, it is worth noting that this experiment has met with some resistance. The French Retailers Association, representing around 450,000 small shops, expressed concerns over the potential impact on local businesses. They fear that making online shopping more convenient could divert customers away from brick-and-mortar stores, thereby affecting local economies.
The Importance of Local Specificities
I currently live in Dallas, Texas, and I don’t see the USPS putting fitting rooms in their offices anytime soon, nor do I see customers needing this service. However, this makes more sense in a place like Paris.
Picture this: you live in Paris and order a large coat and a few pairs of pants. After picking up the package at the post office (due to many thieves in your apartment building), you walk home or ride the public transportation carrying your bulky items. (Few people own a car in Paris, as traffic and parking are a nightmare.) This isn’t your lucky day, and none of the items you received fit. If you decide to return them, you’ll have to carry all of your stuff again to the post office. This would not be a huge hassle for me in Texas. In Dallas, I am used to safely receiving packages by my front door and driving everywhere. But I can see why people would rather try the clothes in the post office in a place like Paris.
Of course, these personal transportation constraints make it more difficult for people living in big French cities to order multiple sizes and return what does not fit. But there are other issues impacting consumer behavior. For example, while the median income is significantly higher in the US than in France, the cost of clothing is more expensive in France. As a result, we can imagine that each purchase is a bigger deal for consumers, and customers have higher standards for their purchases, making trying on clothes more important. The fashion culture may also play a part, with French customers putting a higher value on finding the right fit for their clothes.
Finally, the alternatives for returning items offered to French consumers may not be as developed as in the US, where easy home returns, pickup, and package lockers are more common. It could be that Amazon not being as big as in the US has slowed down the adoption of these great tools for product returns, or that physical space being at a premium in cities like Paris makes it difficult for businesses to justify the investment.
La Poste’s fitting room initiative in Paris cleverly addresses the unique challenges of urban online shopping, considering practical, local solutions. While such an innovation might seem unnecessary in car-friendly, suburban settings, it makes a lot more sense in a densely populated, public transit-oriented city like Paris. This strategy also highlights the importance of understanding diverse consumer needs in the evolving world of ecommerce. Will it revolutionize the industry? I don’t believe it. But I am personally curious to see if consumers will actually use these fitting rooms and if it brings new business to La Poste.