"Mirror, mirror, in the fitting room, why is there a camera, and who's looking at whom?"
Virtual mirrors are positioned as the shopper's next stage. The basic idea for virtual mirrors is that shoppers stand in front of a digital monitor that looks like a mirror, and a video camera projects their image onto the screen. Shoppers not only see what the clothing that they're trying on looks like, but they can pick out and virtually "try on" other clothes and accessories from the screen, share the look with friends or a personal shopper, then decide what to buy.
Virtual mirrors represent a tremendous opportunity for retailers, from harnessing treasure troves of shopper data, to reducing in-store inventory, to recommending and showing incremental purchases--all adding more "cha-ching" to basket ring.
But how likely are shoppers to be comfortable with these mirrors and their "helpful" cameras? Can they replace physically trying on clothes? Will they lift sales and shopper satisfaction?
Or are virtual mirrors a tactical reflection of what technology can do, rather than a strategic experience that people want?
Real (not virtual) red flags
There are several natural consumer concerns as they try this technology on for size, pun intended.
The foremost concern is fit. Comfort with the look and feel of clothing is of the utmost importance to satisfaction. So ensuring that the virtual fitting system is not just accurate, but precise, in matching customers' dimensions on a consistent basis is critical.
Another obvious concern: Privacy. In an era rife with nude screenshots and social media, the concept of privacy is constantly changing. Everyone deserves a reasonable expectation of privacy, but what is it? No matter how you spin it, there's an undeniable creep factor in undressing in front of a video camera, let alone one that's connected to a server or Wi-Fi (even if it's in a public space, outside a private dressing room).
As the hacks of the U.S. government and AshleyMadison.com have shown, no system is truly secure. So whether it's the folks at American Eagle or some nerd hacking away in his mom's basement, the need for privacy is critical, and could be a huge turnoff.
As if getting people in stores wasn't already challenging enough.
Another potential hurdle is convenience. If there's one thing no one wants, it's another set of login credentials. But for retailers and shoppers to maximize their opportunities, there needs to be an omni-channel customer profile system that can be constantly accessed and enriched. Plus, a simple user interface that ensures effortless engagement.
Then there is control. Control of the experience entails offering an "off" switch so shoppers can deactivate the virtual mirror. Control of the input device is vital, whether it's their phone that they're comfortable using or a store's 7-foot tall virtual mirror. Control of data is huge, both the personal data that is consciously shared, such as sizes, photos/videos, and communications between friends; and broader data, such as duration of stay, popularity of chinos among Asian men, etc.
Principles for virtual mirrors to succeed
The concerns with virtual mirrors are clear, obvious, and relatable. But, upon further reflection (yes, another pun intended), there's powerful potential in this experience. Here's how the technology and its application can rise above concerns and represent the future of shopper experience.
- Offer transparency. Let shoppers see what data is being shared. Give them control over their profile, virtual closet of former purchases, photos, etc. Even allow them to opt-out at any time.
- Ensure security. Reassure shoppers that their data is safe, from advanced password protection to encrypted networks and secure storage.
- Provide value. At minimum, virtual mirrors must do what they promise. They must also add value greater than physically trying on clothes, such as offering timely inspiration, archiving new possibilities, pick-up and delivery options, etc.
- Be simple. Complement, don't complicate. Virtual mirrors should be easy to operate and should feel native to the shopping experience.
- Be seamless. Customer profiles (or "closets") for virtual mirrors should be part of an omni-channel solution. It should flow seamlessly from retail to e-commerce to mobile app, giving shoppers relevant communications, recommendations, offers, and experiences, while aligning data for a broader understanding of specific shoppers.
Imagine a system where an app on your phone automatically checks you in as you enter the store, and a beacon notifies you that your private changing room is ready. Step inside the room and your previous purchases, wish lists, "personal shopper" recommendations, and input from friends are all instantly available. You can add accessories from different departments, or even get access to exclusive items that aren't in-store!
If retailers can deliver on these five key shopper benefits, virtual mirrors will have a real shot at being pervasive, versus invasive. They may become the price of doing business at retail, like watching pre-roll ads before a YouTube video, but shoppers will appreciate the value that they're receiving in return.
Murphy O'Brien is associate creative director at Momentum Worldwide.