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A Value-Added Salesperson: Mannequins Make a Strong Comeback


There is little that is more relevant to the brick-and-mortar shopping experience than seeing the latest fashions prominently displayed on a mannequin. No matter how slick or sophisticated online shopping sites portray their wares, few things come close to seeing the cut, style, even the feel of fabrications and outfits on a life-sized model.

Mannequins came into use about a hundred years ago and have reflected the cultural times and consumer society throughout the decades. Starting with the headless upper torsos of the early 1900s, the evolution of mannequins progressed to full-size human figures in the teens; then took on replications of Hollywood starlets during the Depression when Americans sought refuge from hard times in the movies.

During World War II, mannequins took on a more serious tone, reflecting the somber reality of the times. After the war, mannequins became more animated again, but lacked any sexual frame of reference due to a cautious and conservative public.

The sexual revolution of the 1960s brought a whole new look and feel to mannequins and window displays, highlighting details of the female form to reflect bra-less fashions and celebrity look-alikes, like fashion model, Twiggy.

The hyper-realistic mannequins of the ’70s and early ’80s even featured belly buttons and back-spine indentations. The late ’80s, ’90s and early years of this century was a throwback to the early years of headless, faceless figures until stores figured out that in order to compete with their online counterparts, they needed to step up their game. They realized that not only does clothing featured on more real-life mannequins sell, but it can really impact the bottom line, and retailers are using them as a tool to entice more shoppers to buy in-store.

Today’s mannequins showcase real people, real figures, flaws, belly fat, wider hips, tattoos, and a few can be way too graphic for some people’s tastes.

Even so, studies show mannequins influence buying decisions. Forty-two percent of customers recently polled by market research firm NPD Group Inc. say something on a mannequin influences whether they buy it. In fact, mannequins ranked just behind friends and family in terms of influence.

“Mannequins are the quintessential silent sales people,” says Eric Feigenbaum, chair of the visual merchandising department at LIM College, a fashion college in New York City.

Macy’s, Nordstroms and other top retailers are placing orders for mannequins with fuller hips and wider waists.

David’s Bridal for the past few years has scanned thousands of female bodies to determine what the average woman looks like and applied that to its mannequins. Arm and leg measurements can be adjusted to feature a variety of wedding gown designs on different figure shapes.

“We're focusing on the initial impression and the emotional connection,” said P.J. Sylvester, David Bridal's director of visual merchandising.

In this age of transparency (literally), American Apparel also is going hyper-realistic. In 2014, the retailer, known for its racy ads, is featuring mannequins in its store in the trendy SoHo shopping district of New York City that are wearing see-through lingerie that reveal pubic hair and nipples. Ryan Holiday, an American Apparel spokesman, noted the number of customers in the store has increased 30 percent since the debut of the new mannequins.

Using mannequins can highlight unique collections of the store and can illustrate the latest fashion trends and influence the customers to buy specific merchandise.

They attract customers into the store and go a long way in increasing revenue and profit, and mannequins can create up-selling in the store by the merchant creating story-lines and savvy accessorizing.

It’s also a boost to store staff, who can play up a mannequin’s outfit by suggesting complementary pieces and add-ons. Anything can be reinvented and using mannequins are one way retailers can get back in the competitive game.

TAGS: retail, retail trends, merchandising, retailers,
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