It’s time for a smarter shopping mirror – says everyone who hates trying on stuff in stores

Adding a product to the smart mirror.
Source: Google I/O demo

Earlier this month, at the Google Pay sandbox at I/O, Google demoed a “smart mirror.” From what I saw in the demo, the mirror currently has the ability to track and display on the mirror products brought into the dressing room via an RFID tag on each item, show the item’s size and color and all available sizes and colors, and to pay with a single tap, using stored credit cards and accessing loyalty programs with Google’s smart tap. The mirror reduces payment friction and possibly helps shoppers avoid a line at the cashier. The retailer also has the ability to follow up on the purchase in further communications. There are also cool features such as recommended products based on the selected items and setting the lighting to mimic certain times of day and locations, both indoors and out.

It feels like the mirror could be much more than a quicker payment option, especially as the competition intensifies between traditional  retailers and Amazon. One interesting stat is that 73% of the time consumers browse online but then buy in store. This sounds like it could be a huge advantage for retailers yet one they are not currently taking advantage of: the return rate of in-store purchases is 22%, which is virtually the same as the return rate of online purchases, which is 23%.

Why is that return rate so high? One of the reasons is fit, which makes sense for online purchases. After all, shoppers can’t really see how an item fits before trying it on. But why is fit a problem at traditional retailers? It turns out that shoppers really dislike the fitting room experience, be it the cramped quarters, bad lighting, limited number of items, long lines, or the need to find someone that can unlock one. It also turns out, though not really surprising, once in a fitting room, if the item doesn’t fit,  chances are slim that the shopper will go back to the shop floor and seek out a different size. Michelle Tinsley, director of mobility and secure payments in the retail solutions division at Intel, says that “we found that people only go into a dressing room once and get undressed once. If they can’t get the right size and the right fit and they leave the dressing room, it’s very hard to get them to go back into the dressing room a second time.”

Google’s smart mirror’s current feature set does a good job alleviating some of these pain points. Having specific size and color requests go directly from the mirror’s interface to a (hopefully) attentive salesperson who can bring in the different items can make their fitting room session more effective. “If you have a well-run fitting room, it drives an increasing conversion rate and increasing basket size,” said Al Sambar, a retail strategist, and this makes sense. Getting the shopper into the fitting room is an important step in the purchase process and meeting their size, color, and style needs while they’re inclined to try things on makes sense. Adding a checkout in the fitting room also smoothes out the process. After all, why loose the shopper, who has already decided to buy the items tried an, abandon them when seeing a line at the cashier to check out?

A few extra features I’d love to see in fitting rooms:

  1. Currency: There’s a language selector on the mirror. How about adding a currency converter for tourists? This could be especially useful at high-end retailers in popular tourist destinations as tourists make up to 30% of luxury shoppers in the US and 50% (!) in Europe. Setting a currency once will enable the mirror to show the price for every item in the shopper’s chosen currency.
  2. Actual price: While we’re on the topic of price, the total price, including current discounts and loyalty incentives, should be shown alongside the ticketed price. This could also help retailers learn what customers tried on but didn’t like.
  3. Fit: Retailers could start understanding personal fit by correlating clothing items brought into the fitting room with actual purchases and rejections. This knowledge for specific brands, different clothing items, and sizes could be leveraged into the online experience and in future product suggestions. Nordstrom’s site, for example, already has a “fit predictor” based on asking users for a good fit for a particular item by a different brand that could be enhanced with more data and a bit of machine learning.
  4. Fit #2: Using AR matching the shopper’s body to known dimensions of the item to virtually try on clothes just by waving the hanger they’re on. Great for shoppers who really don’t feel like undressing and trying everything on.
  5. Better online integration: when an item in the desired style, size, and color isn’t available in the store, shoppers are often told to just order it online. Yet there are often different barriers to this happening efficiently. If it’s in-store, the salesperson doesn’t always have access to a machine where they can place the order on behalf of the shopper, and when they do, it takes time. The customer can go online later but isn’t always sure what item they tried on as item numbers are not always searchable and don’t always match. With seamless online delivery and completing the transaction from the fitting room, the shopper order variations of an item tried on in the store that aren’t in stock without going anywhere else.
  6. Recommendations: these could be based on matching with items the shopper already owns and also what items could work well with the shopper’s type. The goal is to go beyond “related products” to personalized recommendations.
  7. Sharing: shoppers often take photos of their reflection to share with friends in order to get another opinion. Through the Pay app, shoppers can have the mirror take that shot, this time with better lighting and less awkward poses. They can then share with friends via messaging apps on their phone.
  8. Luxe vs Fast Fashion: what kind of store will these mirrors work in? In high-end stores such mirrors would work better with the salesperson’s cooperation and it’s mostly a win for both the shopper and the retailer. In budget stores there is already a line for dressing rooms and space for these rooms is limited. Will installing smart mirrors drive shoppers to spend more time in the dressing room? Will the ability to pay in the dressing room eliminate the line at the cashier, which is also longer at these stores, and improve the experience for everyone? Perhaps, like in the luxe case, having a salesperson closely in tune to shopper’s requests for different styles, colors, and sizes could speed up time spent in the dressing room.

A smart mirror could really improve the dressing room experience for shoppers, increase sales for the current visit and hopefully reduce the rate of returns in the future. It could also increase customer loyalty, attracting purchases otherwise made at online stores. Of course, it takes a supportive sales crew and IT integration to make this mirror, er, shine, but it will be interesting to see what stores adopt better dressing room technology to lure shoppers.

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