By  on September 21, 2007

Electronic innovations are providing entry to the future of retailing.

Technology is blurring together the online and off-line worlds. The result is what one might call "extreme shopping," a 24/7 experience where speed, convenience and connectivity dominate.

Women can immerse themselves in the world of fashion anywhere at any time. They can see the gray flannel strapless jumpsuit Britney Spears wore out to the clubs the night before, find it in the mall nearby or order it online at forever21.com or net-aporter.com; they can snap a photo of themselves in the latest outfit wherever they might be—Sri Lanka or Shreveport, La.—and automatically post it to their own blog or flickr.com, where friends around the globe can see it and comment on it.

Instead of ignoring the global conversation, designers and retailers are hitting the refresh button with striking concepts. At Polo Ralph Lauren, the store window is a touchscreen to transport passersby to Aspen, Colo., the U.S. Open or Wimbledon. The glass is coated with a transparent foil that responds to touch. A rear projection screen displays the images.

Shoppers can order merchandise from the window 24 hours a day. The transaction is completed by cell phone or e-mail the next day. So far, Polo has put up the temporary displays in London, Chicago and New York. The most recent event took place in London in June to coincide with Wimbledon.

Inspired by social technology, in March Nanette Lepore set up a "magic mirror" in Bloomingdale's that let shoppers interact with the clothes and faraway friends. The shopper could try on an outfit, and the mirror would take the shopper's photo and transmit the image to a cell phone, e-mail address or Web site such as MySpace.com. Friends could see the outfit and offer their opinions, which were displayed on the mirror as if it were a computer screen. The mirror could also project images of matching items and superimpose them on the shopper's reflection.

The concept was designed by interactive agency IconNicholson of New York, which also helped create the futuristic Prada store in SoHo.

"Technology is driving most of the changes in business, all the way from the supply chain to the customer experience," says Tom Nicholson, the agency's chief executive. "The nature of the Internet and the Web and what's going on there is pretty profound. What we see as the next big step and what social retailing is all about is bringing that experience to the physical world."

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