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 you having to undress.
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 Amazon.com that are able to gather information on which items shoppers browse and use that 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, 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 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 stores. In recent years, stores that include 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 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.
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 of its locations. It is considering activating the "virtual dressing" feature.
John Koryl, president of Neiman Marcus stores and online, said the mirror allows the retailer to for the first time 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 is anonymous and aggregated, he said.
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