There are a lot of so-called “pain points” in retail, but most shoppers would argue that the fitting room experience (or the lack of a fitting room, in the case of e-commerce) is chief among them.
But the fitting rooms of the future are here, and if all goes according to design, they just might provide the holy grail to retailers.
In a discussion on the topic at South by Southwest, WWD’s Evan Clark talked with Oak founder Healey Cypher and Avametric chief executive Ari Bloom, who are both working to bring to market-innovative approaches for trying on clothes.
Cypher shared details on Oak’s interactive fitting rooms, introduced with Ralph Lauren, with features that include RFID product recognition, a mirror that turns into a touch screen that lets shoppers request product and check out, and the ability to change the lighting. They also allow shoppers to save to a digital shopping cart and buy online later to “maintain the umbilical cord after the intimate retail experience.”
Cypher emphasized that while much of the buzz and investments are going toward e-commerce and mobile shopping, it’s estimated that only 7 percent of shopping is done online, and that despite the predominance of physical retail, stores haven’t changed much in 100 years. He’s also noticed a trend he called “Web-rooming.” The opposite of “showrooming,” it refers to the practice of a shopper researching online before going in person to make a purchase.
The bottom line? It’s worth investing in tech in the actual store. “We are the most over-retailed country on the planet,” he said. “Retailers aren’t competing on proximity and selection, but they’re competing on the experience.” He also said that because of the pace of improvement on Web sites, customers have become conditioned to have high expectations. Cypher said that stores can use digital tools to measure, and improve, the fitting room — a former “black box.” Stores can see what people are trying on and determine the conversion per item.
Since introducing Oak’s smart dressing rooms at Ralph Lauren, he said, for every dollar spent on the tech, they’ve gotten multiple dollars back on this project alone.
But what about those who can’t be bothered to leave the house?
Enter Bloom’s Avametric, which is best described as technology that uses special effects to let shoppers digitally try on clothes.
Avametric’s scanners take 200 points of reference on a shopper’s body, and through garment activation, can relatively realistically show how various clothes and sizes would look on the shopper. A retailer can, for example, create a personalized look book that is e-mailed to a shopper. Bloom said that the tech could make online conversion rates (which pale in comparison to in-person try-ons) significantly increase, plus decrease the percent of e-commerce apparel that is ultimately returned.
During the conversation, both called for a need for fashion and tech execs to speak the same language. Bloom, for his part, spent much of his career at retailers like Gap Inc., before crossing over into the tech side.
“There is no question that retailers know they need to evolve with tech,” he said, “ but when you quote stats like Healey has — that conversion number that is two-thirds of people who go into a fitting room buy something — imagine if you had that online? That’s a really easy pitch.”
Cypher agreed. “Every retailer is hungry for an intro into tech, but you have to solve real problems. You can’t just throw ‘tech’ in there.”
Bloom, for his part, said that they both are attacking the same problem — the try-on experience — from different places.
“The products are very complementary,” Bloom said. “The beauty is that there are great tech products and features that are complimentary, and the more we can learn from each other, the better.”