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A new high-tech shopping helper: Dressing room mirrors

Sam Harnett Nov 25, 2014
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You can learn a lot by taking a long, hard look in the mirror. But here’s a question: What can a mirror learn about you? If it’s the right mirror, the answer is quite a bit.

Rebecca Minkoff, a fashion designer, is opening a new “connected” boutique in San Francisco. It has big mirror touch screens customers can use to browse products and request a dressing room. If you enter your phone number, the system can communicate with you via text messages. It can tell you when your dressing room is ready, or help you download the store’s app.

When you walk back into the dressing room, what looks like an average mirror suddenly lights up with text and pictures. It knows what items you brought in because a hidden antenna scanned the tags when you came into the room. 

Tracking what you try on is a valuable data point retailers have traditionally failed to capture, says Healey Cypher, head of retail innovation at eBay, which developed the mirror. The mirror can tell stores about your preferences and buying habits.

He says  there is more data to collect through brick-and-mortar shopping than there is online. “Where online is a very binary kind of black and white,” he says “the physical world is all the beautiful shades of gray that are truly useful information.”

It becomes even more beautiful for retailers if they can connect what a customer looks at online with what they buy and try on in a store – which is what happens if you download and use the Rebecca Minkoff app. The data helps the company advertise, display items in its stores and make customized recommendations.

There’s a major push in retail to connect online activity to offline activity. Companies like Macy’s and American Eagle are tracking your smartphone as you move through their stores, so they can see where you go and what you look at. Sinan Aral, a professor at MIT, says the touchscreens and apps of a “connected store” are currently expensive, but he expects that to change soon.

“In the near future,” he says, stores “are going to get quite smart quite fast.”

For now, most dressing room mirrors don’t know who you are or what you might like to wear. They will only show you what you look like.