A handful of primarily upscale retailers are testing high-tech fitting rooms, including Nordstrom in several departments of its Southcenter mall store.
NEW YORK —
Imagine a fitting room with a “smart” mirror that suggests jeans to go with the red shirt you brought in. It snaps a video so you can compare the image side by side with other colorful shirts you try on. It might even show you how the shirt will fit without your having to undress.
A handful of mostly upscale retailers are testing versions of this high-tech fitting room, including Nordstrom in several departments of its Southcenter mall store. And experts say the masses will be able to try these innovations at more stores in the next few years as the technology gets cheaper.
Stores aim to catch up to online rivals like Amazon, which gather information on items shoppers browse and use in order to recommend other products. The new technology enables physical stores to collect much of the same data as online retailers, but executives say customers concerned about privacy are offered a choice and data are protected.
Stores are tapping into the significant role the often-forgotten fitting room can play in purchase decisions. While 36 percent of browsers wind up buying something, 71 percent of shoppers who try on clothes become buyers, according to Paco Underhill, a retail consultant.
Yet the typical fitting room isn’t always inviting: Only about 28 percent of shoppers walk into a dressing room of a typical clothing chain, Underhill says.
“The dressing-room experience in many places has been close to miserable,” Underhill said. “There’s bad lighting. They’re dirty. And they have poor service.”
Some companies are working to change that impression. Later this year, tech company Big Space plans to test at an undisclosed clothing chain a new mirror that recognizes the gender of a customer and makes recommendations based on that. Customers also will be able to request or purchase the items directly from the mirror and have them shipped.
Other technologies already are being tested. In recent years, stores that include Bloomingdale’s and Top Shop have tried technology that enable shoppers to see how they look in an outfit without trying it on.
The patented MemoryMirror from a Palo Alto, Calif.-based company called MemoMi is one of the most advanced in this so-called virtual dressing, a feature expected to be tested in U.S. stores later this year. The mirror is outfitted with sensors, setting off motion-triggered changes of clothing. MemoryMirror uses pixel technology that captures even small details such as a wrinkle on a skirt as it moves.
Even for those trying on the clothing, the mirror also doubles as a video camera, capturing a 360 degree view of what an outfit looks like and making side-by-side comparisons. Shoppers can replay the video and share with friends
Earlier this year, Neiman Marcus rolled out the MemoryMirror outside fitting rooms in three locations — Walnut Creek, Calif., San Francisco and the Dallas suburb of Willow Bend. It is considering activating the “virtual dressing” feature.
John Koryl, president of Neiman Marcus stores and online, said the mirror allows the retailer to have specific information regarding who tried on the dress and bought it. He said while shoppers must register for a unique account with their email address to use the mirror’s features, any data collected on the mirror’s usage remain anonymous and aggregated.
A division of online seller eBay that’s called eBay Enterprise and specializes in providing retail technology and service also has fitting-room technology that some stores are testing. Designer Rebecca Minkoff’s first two stores in New York and San Francisco are testing fitting-room technology that uses radio frequency identification that embeds data in clothing tags. It will be rolling out the technology when it opens stores in Chicago and Los Angeles later this year, says CEO Uri Minkoff.
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It works this way: A touch screen allows the customer to flip through a catalog and indicate which items to display in the dressing room. The customer inputs his or her cellphone number and the sales clerk texts when the fitting room is ready. When the shopper walks in the dressing area, the mirror recognizes the items and displays the different clothing on the screen.
Minkoff said the two stores testing this technology are selling the clothing two and a half times faster than expected and shoppers are increasing the number of items they buy by 30 percent. “We are creating dressing-room therapy,” said Uri Minkoff.
EBay Enterprise also is working with Nordstrom, helping the company understand how the technology performs on a larger scale. Nordstrom uses the mirrors in some fitting rooms at Southcenter and in San Jose, Calif., but they work a little differently: Shoppers are equipped with bar-code scanning devices so they’re able to see what’s in stock in the dressing area.
“We will listen to the customer as they use the mirror and see what changes make sense to improve the experience,” said Nordstrom spokesman Dan Evans.
The new technology has some consumer advocates concerned. “One assumes that the mirror is not looking back at me unless you are in a fairy tale,” said Nuala O’Connor, president and CEO of nonprofit Center for Democracy & Technology. “People love new technology as long as they are aware of what is happening to them and have control of their data.”
But some customers are embracing it. Wendy DeWald, of San Francisco, spent $1,000 on her first trip to the Rebecca Minkoff store; she’s returned a few times. She doesn’t mind sharing some personal data to get a better experience.
“I’m pretty blown away,” she said. “It’s a toy in the dressing room. It enhances the experience.”