Fitting rooms go high tech Sales manager Alysa Stefani uses a touchscreen display to make selections while demonstrating the Memory Mirror at the Neiman Marcus store in San Francisco's Union Square (AP photos)
Fitting rooms go high tech
Lexile

Imagine a fitting room with a "smart" mirror. It can suggest jeans to go with the red shirt you brought in. It snaps a video. The video allows you to compare the image side-by-side with other colorful shirts you try on. It might even show you how the shirt will fit. It will do it without you having to change.

A handful of retailers, including Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, are testing versions of this high-tech fitting room. Experts say most people will be able to try these innovations at more stores in the next few years. It will happen as the technology gets cheaper.

This trend is a way stores aim to catch up to online rivals like Amazon.com. Online, companies are able to gather information. It can tell them which items shoppers browse. The companies can use that information. They can recommend other products. The new technology raises privacy questions. But executives say customers are offered a choice. And their data is protected.

The fitting room is an often-forgotten space in a store. Now retailers are starting to tap into the significant role the fitting room can play. After all, it is where many of us make our purchase decisions.

Just consider these statistics. Thirty-six percent of store browsers wind up buying something. And 71 percent of shoppers who try on clothes in the fitting room become buyers. That is according to Paco Underhill, a retail consultant. Yet the typical fitting room isn't always inviting. Only about 28 percent of shoppers even 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, Big Space, a technology company, plans to test a new mirror. It will recognize the gender of a customer. It can make recommendations based on that. Customers also will be able to request or purchase the items directly from the mirror. They can even have them shipped.

Other technologies are already being tested. In recent years, Bloomingdale's and Top Shop have tested new technology. It enables shoppers to see how they look in an outfit. They can do it without trying it on.

The patented MemoryMirror comes from a Palo Alto, California-based company called MemoMi. It is one of the most advanced in this so-called virtual dressing. This feature is expected to be tested in U.S. stores this year. The mirror is outfitted with sensors. They set off motion-triggered changes of clothing. MemoryMirror uses pixel technology. It captures even small details such as a wrinkle on a skirt as it moves.

For those trying on the clothing, the mirror also doubles as a video camera. It can capture a 360-degree view of what an outfit looks like and make side-by-side comparisons. Shoppers can replay the video. They can also share it with friends.

Earlier this year, Neiman Marcus rolled out the MemoryMirror. It is outside fitting rooms in three of its locations. They are in Walnut Creek, California; San Francisco and the Dallas suburb of Willow Bend. It is considering activating the "virtual dressing" feature.

John Koryl is president of Neiman Marcus stores and online. He said the mirror allows the retailer to have specific information regarding who tried on the dress and bought it for the first time. He said 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 is anonymous and aggregated, he said.

A division of online seller eBay that's called eBay Enterprise specializes in providing retail technology and service. It also has fitting-room technology that some stores are testing. Designer Rebecca Minkoff's first two stores are in New York and San Francisco. They are testing the new fitting room technology that uses radio frequency identification. It embeds data in clothing tags. It will be rolling out the technology when it opens stores in Chicago and Los Angeles. That will happen later this year, says CEO Uri Minkoff.

This is how it works. A touch screen allows the customer to flip through a catalog. It will indicate which items he or she wants in the dressing room. The customer then inputs their cellphone number. The sales clerk texts when the fitting room is ready. When the shopper walks in the dressing area, the mirror recognizes the items. Then it 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. 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. It is helping the company understand how the technology performs on a larger scale. Nordstrom uses the mirrors in some fitting rooms in Seattle and in San Jose, California. They work a little differently. Shoppers are equipped with bar code scanning devices. They are 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 Dan Evans. He is a spokesman for Nordstrom.

The new technology has some consumer advocates concerned.

"One assumes that the mirror is not looking back at me. Unless you are in a fairytale," said Nuala O'Connor. She is president & 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 is one. She spent $1,000 on her first trip to the Rebecca Minkoff store.

"I'm pretty blown away," she said. "It's a toy in the dressing room. It enhances the experience."

Critical thinking challenge: Why are tests being conducted at Neiman Marcus instead of Walmart?

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COMMENTS (6)
  • LauT-Gar
    5/18/2015 - 03:16 p.m.

    i really like this article because it is a cool new technologie

  • Meganp-Cla
    5/18/2015 - 09:27 p.m.

    This is SO cool. This is the best thing foe me since i am to lazy to put on a dress and i always and i mean always have a fit. Why didn't they think of this idea before!!! I could even look back so then i don't have to wear the dress AGAIN!!

  • Malcolm-Par
    5/19/2015 - 08:14 a.m.

    I agree that normal dressing rooms have bad lighting and poor service.

  • ryan0420-yyca
    5/19/2015 - 09:43 p.m.

    Wow that is cool I think that they should have that in every clothes store. It is cool that it recommends to wear what color is good for you. It is cool to have high- tech in clothes stores because you don't have to chose what clothes to wear and It will reccomend for you. Also the high- tech is cool because it is high-tec.

  • caragh5-Bla
    5/21/2015 - 01:13 p.m.

    I think that is a great idea! I would love to have that in the stores nearby. I think it is awesome that a Smart Mirror can recommend what kind of jeans go with the red shirt you brought in! Also i like how it might even show you how the shirt will fit without even having to try it on!

  • KeaganB-1
    5/21/2015 - 10:30 p.m.

    Dressing rooms are becoming more high tech. Somethings that these changing rooms can do are suggest what goes good with what and take videos. The mirror may be able to compare images side by side. The dressing room could tell you if the item will fit with you not even waring it. The hi-tech dressing rooms are one of the things that could improve the store compared to amazon. i htink this article is very interesting.

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