The long, slow decline of mainstream departments stores seems like an inevitability, thanks to the success of Amazon, Zappos, and their ilk. But no matter how cheap and convenient online shopping is, there's still one very good reason to keep going to brick-and-mortar retailers: You know whatever you pick will fit, since you can try it on.
Now Bloomingdale's is trying out a new system that will update the fitting room for the 21st century. It all starts with a wall-mounted iPad connected to a bar code scanner. By scanning the items you're trying on, you can find out more information, and the Bloomingdale's app can also recommend other garments you might like. Better still, it can tell you which of those items are in stock, and in which colors.
The tablets can also be used to get the attention of the fitting room attendant. If you've ever had to lean out of the door of a dressing room half-clothed to get help, you'll understand why simply tapping a button would be far more convenient. The technology is being rolled out on a trial basis at five Bloomingdale's stores in California, New Jersey, and New York.
But Bloomingdale's efforts are child's play compared to what eBay and fashion brand Rebecca Minkoff have come up with.
Leveraging Microsoft's Kinect sensor technology for motion tracking, eBay's engineers are designing a fitting room with a full-length mirror that also acts a display and giant touchscreen. The room can tell which clothes you've brought inside using RFID tag scanning, and can adjust the lighting to show you how clothes will look in different situations. If your picks don't fit, a couple swipes and taps on the mirror can put the right size in your online shopping cart for later purchase.
Of course, the whole system depends on the customer giving up some personal data, including a phone number. How does the store get it? The same way you'd get someone's number at the bar: You get them a drink.
When you walk into a Minkoff store, the first thing you'll see is a huge touchscreen advertising free water, coffee, and tea. If you order one, you're asked to provide your number so the store can text your when your drink is ready. Just like that, you're catalogued, and everything you do in the store after that can be tracked.
It might sound sinister, but eBay and Minkoff representatives promise it's anything but. No cameras are used in the dressing rooms, and according to eBay's Healy Cypher, it's an experience customers have been asking for.
"People are upset that the store experience isn’t like it is online," he told FastCoDesign. "We wanted something that wasn’t dystopian like Minority Report."
Whether shoppers will flock to these enhanced clothing stores remains to be seen, but you may soon have the chance to try one out. Minkoff's first RFID/touchscreen-driven location opens this month in New York, with others expected to follow in LA and Tokyo soon after.