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

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 having to change.

A handful of primarily upscale retailers, including Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, are testing versions of this high-tech fitting room. 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.

This trend is a way stores aim to catch up to online rivals like that are able to gather information on which items shoppers browse and use it to recommend other products. The new technology that enables physical stores to collect much of the same data as online retailers raises privacy questions, but executives say customers are offered a choice and the data is protected.

Stores are tapping into the significant role the often-forgotten fitting room can play in purchase decisions. While 36 percent of store browsers wind up buying something, 71 percent of shoppers who try on clothes in the fitting room become buyers, 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 at an undisclosed clothing chain that recognizes the gender of a customer and makes recommendations based on that information. Customers will also be able to request or purchase the items directly from the mirror and have them shipped.

Other technologies are already being tested in stores. In recent years, stores including Bloomingdale's and Top Shop have tested technology that enable shoppers to see how they look in an outfit without trying it on.

The patented MemoryMirror from a Palo Alto, California-based company called MemoMi is one of the most advanced in this so-called virtual dressing, a feature that's 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.

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 of its locations Walnut Creek, California; 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 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 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 the new 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.

It works this way: a touch screen allows the customer to flip through a catalog and indicate which items he or she wants in the dressing room. The customer inputs their 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 in Seattle and in San Jose, California, 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 fairytale," said Nuala O'Connor, 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, spent $1,000 on her first trip to the Rebecca Minkoff store; she's returned a few more times. She doesn't mind sharing some of her 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."

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

Assigned 14 times

  • tyrekb-Che
    5/18/2015 - 01:42 p.m.

    Its great to see they are going to have rooms as high tech but at the same time they could not function right and something can go wrong in the room.

  • stephanieg-Che
    5/18/2015 - 01:46 p.m.

    I think it would make it easier to get a computer to help you choose what would go good with what you are trying on. If it would bring up what clothes matches your style it would make shopping easy and then I would have outfits picked out before leaving the store.

  • rositap-Che
    5/18/2015 - 01:48 p.m.

    I would love to try this cause it's something new and to see if it works. If this works than that could be the new thing. Also it would be easier to try new things with out changing into the clothes or looking for the right one.

  • dianaz-Che
    5/18/2015 - 01:49 p.m.

    I think this is a good idea and I would want to go to a store that has this type of fitting room. As they advance with this technology, I think more people will be pleased at the fact that they have an extra help as to which shirt to buy.

  • apalacio-Che
    5/18/2015 - 01:50 p.m.

    I think that they should make all fitting rooms like this. It would help lots of people choose what they want to buy. So that more people might go out and buy more stuff that they actually like and not things that they think they like but actually dont.

  • Vy-Ann-Cla
    5/18/2015 - 04:28 p.m.

    The mirrors are being tested at Neiman Marcus because at Wal-Mart there might be too many people using the mirrors and the employees wont be able to control the mirrors and Neiman Marcus would have more clothing.

  • Nikhiln-Cla
    5/18/2015 - 04:31 p.m.

    This article has made me informed of these mirrors of the dressing room future that can give 360 views of what you look like with a dress on or what you"ll look like before you put it on

  • antonios-Koc
    5/18/2015 - 06:22 p.m.

    I think this would be a great invention. It would save so much time when shopping and take less energy. Trying things on can be tiring, especially when you don't know which looks better on you. This smart mirror is a game changer and will bring in more customers for the stores.

  • IlissaDgreen
    5/19/2015 - 11:52 a.m.

    Wow this is neat! Seeing outfits side by side is a smart idea it might even get more people to buy more! Its cool also so you can see the outfits by other angles! I really like this and I hope it goes to more stores all over!

  • JordanBGreen
    5/19/2015 - 11:58 a.m.

    This is so weird I never imagined that we would have gotten this far in the future in trying on clothes like I never want to try on clothes in those rooms because there so loud and gross.

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