VF Corp has a lab to study the way you shop

VF Corp has a lab to study the way you shop

The little nondescript building on East Lindsay Street adjacent to VF Corp.’s Wrangler building hardly looks like anything special from the outside.

But, boy, does it hold a lot of secrets inside.

It’s where Scott Baxter, VF’s group president for jeanswear, covertly uncovers how you like to shop — everything from how you read tags on clothing to how many items you take into the dressing room.

That’s the purpose of VF’s innovative new retail lab.

“We’re trying to find out everything we can about the entire shopping experience,” Baxter said last week. “We want to re-enact the whole experience. We want it to be completely holistic, and we want to understand what’s important to (consumers).”

Greensboro-based VF, whose brands include Wrangler and Lee, opened the lab about six months ago in a building that abuts the Wrangler building parking lot.

“That was strictly storage, and it was really doing nothing,” Baxter said.

But for about $250,000, VF transformed a part of the 2,500-square-foot building into a space to study shopping habits as a way to help retailers better respond to consumers’ needs.

The lab is set up like a store. It was outfitted last week like a Wal-Mart — down to the “Satisfaction guarantee” signs that were posted around the racks and shelves that held men’s and women’s bootcut and skinny jeans.

VF invites its retail customers, such as Wal-Mart, into the lab so they can envision how products might be displayed in their stores.

They also pay consumers to “shop” in the lab and tell VF what they like — and don’t.

A one-way mirror lets the company’s merchandising team watch. The lab has cameras that record shoppers.

The VF team reviews the footage for suggestions that they pass along to retailers.

“They take the important ones,” Baxter said. “Not every suggestion works.”

Baxter said that the lab has visitors weekly and that VF officials have made some interesting observations about how people shop.

They prefer display cases that are open over ones that are enclosed, said Angelo LaGrega, the president of VF’s jeanswear coalition. It’s easier for them to get to the item they’re interested in buying.

“It makes people automatically want to come in and touch the product,” LaGrega said.

The company recruits men, women and families to visit the lab to get an idea how different groups shop.

For example, VF has asked women to shop for jeans for their husbands, and then invited men to shop for jeans for themselves to compare their habits.

Baxter said women spend more time with the product, pulling it from the rack, unfolding and inspecting it while men are more purposeful. He said they tend to head straight to what they want.

The lab even has four dressing rooms that shoppers are encouraged to use so VF can learn what types of items they try on and how much time they spend in dressing rooms.

Studying customers’ shopping habits has become even more important in recent years as online shopping has presented a challenge for brick-and-mortar retailers. Making shopping more efficient is a must if stores are going to keep up with the ease of buying online.

“I don’t want to have to fight to find it,” Baxter said. “Nobody has that kind of time anymore.”

VF is so pleased with its Greensboro lab that it opened a second one about two months ago in Kansas City, Mo., near where the Lee jeans brand has its headquarters.

Baxter said the lab here has been a “home run” for the company.

“We’re pretty happy with it,” he said.

Contact Jonnelle Davis at (336) 373-7080, and follow @jonsieNR on Twitter.