Looking — and Buying — Without Touching

Discussion
Aug 08, 2011
Bernice Hurst

At first glance, a story about John Lewis introducing virtual mirrors devised by Cisco so customers don’t have to strip off to see how a new outfit looks seemed like new news. But a quick Google search revealed others have been following a similar path since 2007.

John Lewis believes customers trying multiple fashion lines along with accessories will facilitate cross-selling and mutual retailer and customer satisfaction.

When Adidas introduced similar technology to their Paris store in 2007, Louis Ramirez pointed out a fallacy on gizmodo.com. "I think the concept is cool," he wrote, "but I’d be more concerned over the fit than how they look."

Cisco’s mirror uses sensors to measure customers and then find suitable outfits. Their spokesman told Retail Gazette, "The technology takes the drudgery out of searching for items and exposes people to a wider range of clothing. It will be more efficient and provide the retailer with the chance to cross-sell brands and accessories, while at the same time improving levels of service."

Ways to incorporate social media are also being studied so customers can share their images with friends once privacy issues are resolved.

Meanwhile, webcams are the mirror of choice for glasses. La Boutique Peugeot uses customers’ webcams like a mirror before purchasing in-store. Ray-Ban boasts its virtual mirror is "the definitive augmented reality experience, which permits you to virtually try-on the latest Ray-Ban styles." Sunglass Hut uses digital photo booths in some stores so customers can immediately send pictures to friends or social networking sites for other opinions on their choice. UK-based glasses2you, promises a wider range of glasses at a lower price than specialist opticians.

Various approaches to virtually applying cosmetics have also been tested by the likes of Walmart, Carrefour and Superdrug amongst others. IBM and Israel’s Ezface use an "augmented reality system" to combine video images with virtual/digital elements on the same screen, according to singularityhub.com, but the complexities of accommodating individual skin tones, lighting, hair color, etc. may explain why neither kiosks or sales have yet made headlines.

Discussion Questions: How appealing will virtual mirrors be for customers trying on clothes? Are virtual mirrors rendered impractical by the inability to test the way products fit and feel?

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18 Comments on "Looking — and Buying — Without Touching"


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Max Goldberg
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

Any system that makes shopping easier and empowers consumers to make product selections is good. Consumers can always opt out and simply try on the clothes/shoes. Being able to immediately share options with friends is also important. This is one of the many ways that retailers can adapt to changes in consumer habits.

Doug Stephens
Guest
Doug Stephens
9 years 9 months ago

There’s a place for this technology both inside and outside the store. It can certainly allow customers to try a wide range of styles and colors very quickly, to narrow things down, without the hassle of running back and forth to the rack.

The applications I’ve seen for makeup have also been excellent, and allowed women to try a wide variety of colors and brands, without the usual inconvenience.

What these mirrors do not do (at least for now) is replicate the tactile elements of the garment or product. How does the fabric feel? How heavy does it feel on the body? How does the lip gloss taste? Etc. These are important aspects of selecting a product that have to be experienced in real terms.

Marge Laney
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

Virtual mirrors are a distraction in the fitting room. Most retailers don’t have enough fitting rooms to accommodate their customers trying on clothes without lines now. Add an internet experience that doubles or triples the time spent and you have a formula for a very bad experience for a lot of waiting customers.

The customer who enters a fitting room is a committed customer who will buy if the items they try on meet their purchase criteria about 70% of the time. A better and proven tactic is to ensure that the fitting room customer is given the opportunity to get the right fit of the style they have brought to the fitting room. Accessible and knowledgeable staff is the best investment for the apparel retailer. Technology that enables and encourages personal connections and the efficient use of the valuable fitting room square footage is the answer. As I always say; if the customer wanted an internet experience they would have stayed home.

Paula Rosenblum
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

As an industry, I think we have to be really careful to not “saw off the same branch we are sitting on.” If I can try on a garment without trying it on, why in heaven’s name do I want to schlep out to the store? Why not do it at home? And if the answer is, “That’s where we take the measurements” then I’d say the customer will come in once and then never come back.

This does not create a differentiated store experience. I think it’s not a good idea.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

Seeing how clothes, shoes, or cosmetics look without the hassle appears to be an attractive option. There is still the issue of feel as mentioned. What this article does point out is the possibility for making the fitting room experience better for consumers. Seeing some experimentation in this space is good.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

Today’s consumers gravitate to more efficient shopping. Anything that helps make the experience more efficient will give those retailers who offer it a competitive advantage. But, the trends remain, the economy of over consumption is behind us and continued expectations and efforts to regenerate it are simply a dream.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

It all depends on the customer.

If you walk down any street you’ll easily see that many, many people are wearing clothes they think “look” good but can’t possibly be comfortable. If feel were important to these people we wouldn’t see men stuffing beer guts into tight athletic clothes.

The psychology of style is complex. For some, virtual mirrors will help. Others want the feel of the clothes against their skin. And, for others the social networking tools are critical.

Doug Fleener
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

I think the best use of virtual mirrors is as an interactive experience before going in to the dressing room to try on clothes. This could actually increase the number of try-ons and sellthroughs. This could also be a nice way to bridge the online experience with the in-store experience.

Roy White
Guest
Roy White
9 years 9 months ago

I have seen and tested the cosmetics make-over system referenced in the Wall Street Journal article above at the recently opened Duane Reade drug store, and it does seem to do what it sets out to do — show the results of a makeover. I’m a convert. The unit allows the shopper to take her own photo and downloads it onto the screen. The shopper selects the item — lipstick, eyeliner, etc. — and scans its barcode into the unit. The unit then applies the right color of the lipstick, say, to the photo, and the shopper can see how it will look on her. There is definitely a novelty factor here, but I’m guessing that there is long-term potential for helping cosmetics sales, if by nothing else than creating an interactive shopping environment long lost in drug store cosmetics departments with the demise of the in-store cosmeticians.

Tony Orlando
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

Can virtual reality replace reality? Doubtful, as many clothiers all fit differently size-wise, but if it helps the buying process, it is a good thing.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

I like the idea of seeing how something will look on me because I hate to shop and try things on only to find out they do not fit or feel right. OK, that being said the reality is I still need to try the items on before buying because size and feel are important. The only thing this does is show me how good or bad the item looks on me.

I am just not sure this is going to be an idea for the ages. Paraphrasing what Paula said, why would we not want the customers coming in the stores?

Fabien Tiburce
Guest
Fabien Tiburce
9 years 9 months ago

In other news, the technology will be a big boost to the weight-loss ad industry which has been painstakingly copying and pasting people heads over different bodies for the obligatory before and after shots. 😉

James Tenser
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

This virtual mirror concept originated decades ago in the eyeglass business for a very important reason: Many wearers cannot see their own reflections clearly without their glasses. So when they try on lens-less frames, they may be unable to judge their appearance using a conventional mirror.

There are other applications and questions that may well justify the use of video technology by providing faster or otherwise un-viewable views. How would a different eyeshadow color look? Should I switch to a new hairstyle? Does my butt look good in these jeans?

That said, I’m not so sure most shoppers will spend more even in those categories because of virtual mirrors. But at least they will make selections with greater confidence. That might provide an edge for retailers who invest in the technology.

Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
9 years 9 months ago
Virtual mirrors are definitely viable shopping tools. That the mirrors have met with limited success probably has more to do with the fact that brands are targeting the general consumer market. If brands were to target certain key demographics with the mirrors, they’d likely gain more traction. For example, virtual mirrors and bridal salons seem a natural fit, allowing brides and bridesmaids to “virtually try on” various gowns and then select a few that they want to physically try on. The mirrors would seem to work well for aging or disabled consumers who may experience difficulty trying on various outfits. Targeting high-income business professionals seems smart, allowing that busy, time-starved consumer to quickly try on new patterns for new suits, dress shirts, ties, etc. The bathing suit shopper would likely welcome a virtual mirror to ensure selected suits fit and look right before making their public debut. If the social media aspect can be worked out, that would prove attractive for some demos, like brides seeking feedback from faraway friends and family. And contrary to… Read more »
M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
9 years 9 months ago
Remember those paper cut-out dolls that came with various paper outfits with little tabs on them so you could “dress” the dolls with various fashions? (It was my sister, it wasn’t me. Honest, not me. I could have more fun with a stick. Really, it wasn’t me.) I’m thinking that Cisco’s technology could be best used by the TSA for airport security purposes, and we all know how our government likes to spend money on speculative electronic gadgetry. Using Cisco’s mirror “to incorporate social media” “so customers can share their images with friends” suggests to me that Anthony Weiner and other U.S. Congressmen might make good consultants. For virtual makeup testing, I can see a circus clown application used to review various faces pursuant to gainful employment and frightening young children and some otherwise well-adjusted adults. And tattoo parlors!? “This is how ridiculous you’re going to look, but you should go for it!” What about an aging program that shows how a tattoo of your bulldog’s face will actually become 3D in several years as… Read more »
Jason Goldberg
Guest
Jason Goldberg
9 years 9 months ago

If I can’t take the clothes home with me, why would I prefer to go to a store to “virtually try on” clothes that have to be delivered later? Wouldn’t most consumers prefer to use a webcam at home to “virtually try on” clothes for home delivery?

Stores need to leverage the substantial advantages of the physical shopping environment and immediate gratification, not race to the lowest common denominator of online virtual shopping experiences.

I’m a big fan of virtual shopping, I just don’t prefer to do it in a store. When I make the trip to the store, I’m more often looking for non-virtual shopping.

Every time I hear an in-store sales clerk tell me how they can order it for me, it’s like nails on a chalk board. I can order at home myself easier … my shipping and payment info is already in my computer and probably in my account, I’ll get shipment tracking info, see more shipping options, recommended additional purchases, better pricing, etc….

Larry Negrich
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

This application of the technology seems like a bit of a waste in a store environment. If the clothes, eyewear, etc., are at hand why wouldn’t the shopper just hold them up and/or try them on? A bit of research/pilot could quickly reveal whether the virtual mirror improves sales in the physical store. However, some version of this technology available via webcam could help to make virtual shopping a little more engaging.

Mike Osorio
Guest
Mike Osorio
9 years 9 months ago

The point here is not about efficiency, it is about fun. Retailers and brands who choose to use the technology should do so as a carefully considered addition to their consumer touchpoints. If done well, the technology allows the consumer to play with the product, share their experience with friends and ultimately engage them with the product in a (hopefully) positive way.

The technology does not replace the physical shopping experience. Rather, it provides a further pull for the customer who wants to play with the product in real terms to come into the store. For those who are shopping online with no intent to go into the store, it can make that experience more engaging as well and produce higher conversion and spending rates.

1. Do your research with your targeted consumer groups to ensure playful engagement is a desired experience.
2. Test the technology and roll out if the desired metrics are achieved: conversion, spend, or simply higher client engagement.

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