What Retail Workers’ Attire Communicates to Customers

What Retal Workers’ Attre Communcates to

The authors’ research found that shoppers were almost twce as lkely to nteract wth a formally dressed employee as one who was nformally dressed, belevng that the more formally dressed employees had more eertse than ther casually dressed peers. Ths rased ther eectatons of gettng better servce. As shoppers return to n-person retal, managers should allow flexblty n ther employee dress code to communcate to shoppers whch employee s the best to ask for assstance.

As restrctons and lockdowns to end, many retalers are fndng themselves at a crosss between welcomng back nsde and keepng ther frontlne employees safe. Plexglass shelds around regsters and sgns advsng physcal dstancng are all meant to keep employees safe, but they also reduce nteractons wth . And whle some employees feel comfortable returnng to work, some retal employees are eerencng anxiety over customer nteractons due to the lftng of mandates when less than one third of the U.S. populaton has been fully vaccnated.

Addressng these challenges s crtcal n order for n-person retal to bounce back from the . Research from before the Covd-19 crss found that 90 percent of would rather leave a store empty handed than ask for assstance. Now, wth so many necessary barrers to nteracton, how can retalers subtly sgnal to shoppers whch employees are more comfortable closely assstng them? t may come down to employee dress codes.

Our pre- research on employee apparel and shopper approach nons shows that the formalty of employee clothng sgnfes eertse and encourages shopper nteracton. Partcpants n our studes were almost twce as lkely to nteract wth a formally dressed employee (a har salon employee wearng a whte lab coat) as one who was nformally dressed (whte polo). When we elored why ths was, we learned that partcpants vewed formally dressed employees as havng more eertse than ther casually dressed peers. Ths rased ther eectatons of gettng better servce. More recent research shows that shoppers stll sgnfcantly prefer a formally dressed employee over a casually dressed one, even when they are both wearng a .

Our research suggests that retalers should consder employee apparel as part of socal dstancng ntatves n two ways. Frst, when are more wllng to approach an employee wth questons, t can reduce excessve tme they spend searchng and touchng objects around the store (such as when have to pck up a to read the back of t) or leavng wthout makng a . Second, employees who do not want to engage n close nteracton can sgnal that by dressng less formally. Once nformed of ths effect, perhaps non-vaccnated employees may prefer to dress more casually whle vaccnated employees may prefer to dress more formally to encourage shoppers to approach them for assstance rather than ther non-vaccnated colleagues. Retalers could also consder more obvous communcatons by assgnng dfferent colored clothng to employees who feel comfortable beng wthn close dstance to others and alertng shoppers through sgnage at the store’s entrance.

Whle s do not necessarly fall nto the “formal dress” category, they are currently a part of many employee dress codes that may substantally mpact approach nons. A lttle over a year after the ed, 83% of those surveyed ndcated they would be more lkely to approach an employee wth a face over an dentcal employee wthout a . Ths ndcates that contnued employee wearng may nstll a greater confdence n an employee and may help have more satsfactory shoppng eerences. s do come wth an addtonal challenge n that they restrct facal eressons used for communcaton between employees and shoppers. An employee can no longer sgnal ther wllngness to be approached through smlng, makng the sgnals they send through ther apparel choces even more mportant.

Due to the fast-changng nature of the , there has been uncertanty for many about socal protocol as vaccnes are delvered and new nformaton s dscovered. State regulatons may be dfferent than cty regulatons and retal stores can have ther own set of rules on top of those. These regulatons have changed durng the as well as recommendatons for socal dstancng and wearng. Personal belefs also add to the uncertanty felt by many on socal protocol whle shoppng. Ths confuson has left numerous retal employees and shoppers unsure of how to nteract wth each other n-store.

Retalers can help to lessen ths confuson by allowng flexblty n ther employee dress code to communcate to shoppers whch employee s the best to ask for assstance. At the same tme, shoppers need to remember that not every frontlne employee feels comfortable offerng assstance rght now and can look for cues that would sgnal who s open to beng approached. Ultmately, as socal protocol has changed so much n the past year, we all need to learn a few new ways to safely communcate as we navgate through ths together.

What Retal Workers’ Attre Communcates to



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Maryam Hassan

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