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Are Magic Mirrors the next big thing?

BY CSA STAFF

There was a buzz at this year’s NRF Big Show surrounding Magic Mirrors, which have moved from the prototype stage to something everyone seems to be working on now. But are Magic Mirrors the wave of the fashion and retail future, or are they just another gimmick that won’t stick after the novelty wears off?Do they really enhance the shopping experience, help sales associates and generate a return on investment, or are they another step in the process that detracts from the excitement and human interaction of shopping, turning the act into something rote?

The Magic Mirror started as an augmented reality tool for shoppers to virtually “try on” different clothing items in front of a mirror outfitted with sensors, enabling a motion-triggered virtual change of clothing. When the customer moved his or her arm, he or she would see a new shirt or pair of pants superimposed over a live image. Product information is fed into the mirror from a linked tablet with which the customer can continue the experience, swiping through color pallets, sharing new looks with friends, and even making a purchase.

Retailers have been experimenting with this technology since 2010, when Macy’s rolled out its smart dressing room. Body scanning and measurement devices—such as Me-Ality, which can create user profiles for better fitting, but requires a scanning machine; and Styku which created a portable 3D body scanning platform—have been interesting on a designer level, but not adoptive for consumer use. However, the basis of their technology has served to boost the development of enhanced smart mirrors, such as Intel’s Magic Mirror, which takes a 360-degree video and provides sizing data, and is just now being rolled out in a pilot program with Neiman Marcus.

The benefits of Magic Mirror technology range from being a fashion driver to enhancing the fitting-room process. The shared goal is to provide the customer with a fully integrated retail experience while giving the retailer and brand the ability to pull and track data, expand their customer loyalty programs and better monitor inventory. The applications for this technology have evolved over the last few years, with today’s key uses being:

  1. Attracting customers with visual suggestions and options for complimentary fashion, style, wardrobe or makeup ideas
  2. Expediting the fitting room process and providing a hassle-free experience, enabling better customer-associate interaction
  3. Theft protection (in the case of RFID-tagged items) and inventory tracking and management
  4. More importantly, data collection, expanding loyalty programs, sales tracking and the social media sharing that occurs with each use.

While there are many variations in the application of this technology, most products can be grouped within two categories: Magic Mirror displays and fitting room technology. Some crossover does exist, based on a brand’s customized user experience.

Displays and mirrors

Magic Mirror displays focus on the ability to showcase products on a big display and provide an augmented reality experience for the customer. Installing tablets is the least expensive way to provide an augmented-reality experience. For Magic Mirrors, the hardware and [software] installation costs need to be justified by higher consumer purchases.

There are a few notable products undergoing pilot testing or a limited roll out.

Panasonic’s interactive mirror allows the customer to look at herself (or himself) and see how she would look if she changes her makeup and in different lighting, pointing out perceived flaws and making suggestions for helpful products.

4D Retail Technology Magic Corp’s 4D Magic Mirror display features a virtual assistant named “Anna” and uses targeted voice recognition technology to answer a variety of questions including pricing and other detailed key selling points, making recommendations based on selections pre-programmed by the retailer.

Memomi’s Memory Mirror tracks real-time movements using cameras and sensors, allowing the Magic Mirror technology that superimposes color changes onto the customer’s live image, to show texture and movement, increasing the realism of the new look. It takes body measurements by allowing the customer to record a seven-second, 360-degree image as he or she turns in front of the mirror. The customer can then change sizes, colors and styles to see what that product looks like on his or her particular body. The customer can compare products side-by-side on a connected tablet and, of course, share them via e-mail and social media. One of Memory Mirror’s benefits is it doesn’t require the use of RFID tagging, which can be labor intensive for retailers.

Companies such as The Big Space have used Magic Mirror display technology to enhance brand experiences, such as with Mac makeup, where RFID-tagged items pop up on a mirror while the customer is viewing them, providing detailed information about the product. The application is completely artist-driven (based on the artists’ product choices). As its current pilot program is geared toward international and travel customers, there are several language options on the Mac-customized screen which can be implemented in airports and changed instantly to cater to a new set of international customers, if the proper logistics are in place.

Fitting room

Most Magic Mirror fitting room technology is RFID-tag based. The customer walks into the fitting room and sensors in the mirror or tablet recognize the item brought in and offer additional wardrobe suggestions. These systems enable the shopper to call a sales associate immediately, pulling sizes and colors as needed, and reassuring the customer of the associate’s attendance. Some systems have been customized to enable making a purchase while still in the fitting room.

Many teched-out fitting rooms use tablets such as iPads to allow the customer to request the assistance of a sales associate, receive new sizes or colors, see what’s in stock in the store, and receive fashion suggestions for complimentary items, such as a belt to match the shirt just tried on.

Hybris offers an e-commerce digital in-store and omnichannel experience, allowing the customer to select new sizes in the dressing room, and facilitating notification to sales associates. Its cross-sale features comprise a full omnichannel journey, as the customer can see what products are ready and continue his or her selection with an online purchase, if the products are not in the store.

Catlook offers a suite of in-store technologies including RFID-tagged item recognizing mirror displays, touch-screen product browsing, and virtual interaction with associates for fitting room assistance. Another fashion-forward aspect of their suite is the Virtual Mannequin, which allows the customer to bring a product to the screen, and automatically completes the look for them.

Crossover

Most notable is EBay’s interactive display at Rebecca Minkoff’s stores, blending in-store and online shopping habits, allowing the customer to swipe through options on a touch screen mirror, and then having those products brought to them in the fitting room where they can continue the experience. The lighting can be adjusted to various lighting modes (such as evening lighting, or daytime exposure), depending on where the customer plans to wear the clothing. The connected mirror is part of the connected store concept, through EBay’s software and hardware. Clothing is RFID tagged, but the mirror still functions as a reflective display.

The possibilities are intriguing, but questions remain: Will consumers adopt this technology? Do consumers want a tablet to provide wardrobe suggestions, or will it seem like yet another advertisement being pushed inside in the dressing room? Is virtually trying on an outfit a substitute for actually feeling how the fabric falls on one’s frame?

Some of the larger obstacles include the use of RFID tagging in the store. As it is currently implemented, there is significant labor required from the retailer. There is also the cost of rollout, as software and tablets may offer a more financially attractive implementation, since the hardware cost of a Mirror implementation is significantly higher. The payoff will come in customization options including mobile checkout, motion triggered response, voice activation and touch screens, as the retailer continues to hone in on the balance of benefits versus cost.


Deborah Weinswig is executive director of the Fung Business Intelligence Centre where she heads the firm’s Global Retail and Technology research team, a think tank focused on emerging retail and tech trends. Weinswig is a former top Wall Street and retail technology analyst viewed as a leading authority on emerging technologies.

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Another indication of a strengthening economy

BY CSA STAFF

The smallest of small businesses are feeling good about 2015 which is good news for Sam’s Club as it appeals to the key member segment.

Microbusiness owners, defined as companies with five or fewer employees, are feeling better about their ability to maintain or grow their personal income in 2015, according to the Sam’s Club/Gallup Microbusiness Tracker survey of more than 1,000 businesses.

Based on a year of feedback from America’s Main Street microbusinesses, Sam's Club and Gallup discovered that America’s entrepreneurs’ expectations for growth, hiring and strengthened business conditions have improved dramatically since December 2013. Microbusiness owners also report fewer concerns about their cash flow or bottom lines at the end of 2014 than they did a year ago. Owners concern for cash reserves as a “major issue” for their business dropped 6 points from December 2013 to December 2014 (58% to 52%, while the number of microbusinesses that had had to dip into personal savings to make ends dropped 9 points (44% to 36%).

"With a year of data on American microbusinesses’ top emotional and economic concerns, I hope small business advocates will join Sam’s Club to respond to entrepreneurs needs and help them prosper with data-driven solutions, services, grants and programs,” said Rosalind Brewer, president and CEO of Sam’s Club. “The optimism among Main Street business owners heading into 2015 is a significant economic indication.”

Other annual trends signal microbusiness optimism, including increased confidence in the future of their companies (66.6% up to 72.5%) and decreased concern for finding more customers” (51.4% down to 46.5%). Microbusinesses also had decreased concern about access to capital (35.8% down to 30.8%).

“The improving outlook among microbusiness owners in December 2014 mirrors rising spirits and stronger economic signals in other economic metrics Gallup regularly tracks,” said Ben Ryan, entrepreneurial specialist at Gallup. “Economic confidence is up, unemployment is down, and consumer spending is strong. The rising tide appears to be lifting these smallest of boats as well.”

The Sam’s Club/Gallup Microbusiness Tracker results reflect 1,007 phone interviews conducted November 24 to December 2014 with companies of five or fewer workers defined as microbusinesses. The Tracker has followed companies of five or fewer workers on a quarterly basis from December 2013 to December 2014.

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BN campaign promotes reading and the Nook

BY CSA STAFF

Barnes & Noble Inc. is embarking on a social media-based campaign to inspire more customers to read and promote its Nook e-reader.

The Nook Reading Challenge is a social media-based reading challenge with the goal of inspiring participants to read more and interact with their friends and the book community about what they’re currently reading, the company said.

To participate in the challenge, readers have to commit on their Facebook page to read one or more books between Jan. 24 (National Readathon Day) and Feb. 28 using the hashtag #NOOKReadingChallenge.

“We’re always looking for creative and meaningful new ways to engage with readers through social media and we think Nook fans and their friends will really enjoy the Nook Reading Challenge,” said Allison Vartabedian, VP of brand marketing at Nook. “Pledging to read a new book is a great way to start the New Year, and we’re launching this program on National Readathon Day to provide even more inspiration to pick up your next great read.”

Participants are encouraged to invite their friends to take the Nook Reading Challenge by tagging them on Facebook throughout the duration of the challenge. They can join in engaging conversations about the books they’re reading, and enter for a chance to win one of 100 $25 Barnes & Noble Gift Cards that will be given to lucky participants.

National Readathon Day is a nationwide marathon reading session on Jan. 24, from noon to 4 p.m. (in respective time zones) where participants can share their love of books and support programs that promote reading by pledging to read and fundraise for the National Book Foundation.

Barnes & Noble operates 658 Barnes & Noble bookstores in 50 states, and one of the Web’s largest e-commerce sites, BN.com. It also sells the Nook e-reader device.

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