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The “smart fitting room” concept

More and more fashion retailers are equipping their fitting rooms with RFID. This blog post discusses the concept of so called smart fitting rooms - how they change shopping behavior and aid the retailer, and how the system is implemented.

DEFINITION OF "SMART FITTING ROOM"

A quick explanation of the concept would be a fitting room equipped with a fixed RFID reader and an interactive tablet computer. The RFID reader automatically scans the items that are taken into the fitting room and customers can, with the help of the interactive tablet, get more product information, give feedback, order a different size, and so forth. When I refer to the concept "smart fitting room" in this blog post, it always consists of two parts:

  1. Fixed RFID scanner(s)
  2. Interactive tablet computer - a so called "Personal Assistant"


A fitting room with only fixed RFID scanners, but no interactive customer interface, is not considered a smart fitting room and vice versa.

OBSERVING SHOPPING BEHAVIOUR

The most valuable benefit of smart fitting rooms is, without a doubt, better customer service. But even if the customer doesn't use the interactive tablet computer, very valuable information can be collected from observing what items customers bring to the fitting rooms and what happens to them afterwards. In addition, the retailer will always know where all items are. By serving the customers' needs better: knowing what they want, having it in stock/in the right location, suggesting matching items and bringing the items to the fitting room - more sales is the obvious result. 

Even without the customer interaction, installing RFID scanners in fitting rooms can show trends that both clothing designers and retailers can use to boost sales. If statistics show that women try on shirts designed for weekend clubbing on Fridays, merchandisers can place them strategically on the shop floor or in the display window that particular day. They might also launch a Friday campaign "buy this shirt and get 20% off a pair of matching jeans". Product developers and designers can also use statistical data from the fitting room and compare it to purchase data to see what items were tried on and purchased, versus those that were only tried on. This information can help designers to react more quickly to customer preferences by revising upcoming designs.

Information about items that are tried on often, but seldom bought, is of value to the retailer even if the customer doesn't report the exact reason. The retailer can then speculate whether the item is too expensive, perceived as bad quality, uncomfortable, has bad fitting, is too large or small for its claimed size, etc.

Additionally the RFID readers will inform the staff if there are items just lying around in the fitting room. This is especially important if another customer is looking for the same items on the shop floor.

Installing RFID readers in the fitting rooms might not necessarily decrease shrinkage further if an RFID system already is in place, but it might give more information about what happened to the missing items and where it happened. If a missing item has been scanned last in a fitting room at, let's say, 2012-12-11 at 14.33 pm, one can assume that's where the tag was destroyed or disabled and the item tucked into a bag. Since we know when the item was last scanned, security cameras might even be able to spot the thief coming out of the fitting room. If the same offender comes back, the staff might be able to recognise him or her. Merely informing the public about the use of RFID in the fitting rooms might make offenders think twice before attempting to commit a crime.

CUSTOMER INTERACTION IN FITTING ROOMS

An excellent way to enhance the shopping experience and make it easy to buy your products is to offer customers a way to communicate and get information in the fitting room. Yes, as you already guessed, now we'll talk about the interactive tablet computers mentioned earlier that will be called "Personal Assistants" from now on.

When a customer enters a smart fitting room, an RFID reader notices the garments taken inside immediately and shows them on the display of the Personal Assistant. After this the customer can use the touchpad in order to facilitate the shopping experience, get ideas and information, and give feedback.

TYPICAL PERSONAL ASSISTANT APPLICATIONS

 

Smart -fitting -room _web


The used applications vary from retailer to retailer, but the most common applications offered in smart fitting rooms are:

  1. MATCHING GARMENT ADVICE

    The application gives pointers on what products match the garments brought to the fitting room. The system opens the possibility for more efficient cross-selling.
          
  2. PRODUCT SEARCH/INFORMATION

    The customer can see availability of sizes and colours of a garment on the screen. If a certain item is out of stock, the system can be designed to let the customer know when they will be in stock and order the item to get it delivered to their doorstep.

    The customer can also look up facts about the item, such as where it was produced and more precise information about used materials and care advice. If a customer is interested in e.g. a matching item, like a scarf proposed by the system, the location of the scarf on the shop floor might be of interest, so that it easily can be picked up on the way out. This way the customer doesn't have to order it and wait for a staff member to bring it.
        
  3. CALL FOR ASSISTANT

    The call for assistant application allows the customer to send a request for a sales assistant to bring more items to the fitting room. This is one of the most important features of the system, since it means that the customer is saved from the trouble of fetching different colours, sizes or items themselves. All retailers know how prone customers are to leaving without buying if they don't get a perfect match at the first go. By giving the customers a second, third, fourth… chance of getting it right without much added effort, the probability of getting sales increases tremendously.
        
  4. FEEDBACK

    There is a tremendous amount of information that customers will supply you with, if you just give them a chance. People like to praise, help and complain - simply to make themselves heard and know that the retailer cares about their opinions. And a smart retailer knows that all feedback is valuable, both positive and negative. The retailer is given a chance to make an unhappy customer satisfied by e.g. handing out discount coupons or gift cards.

    As mentioned earlier the statistics from the RFID readers in the fitting room alone will give retailers indirect customer feedback, but the customers themselves can use the Personal Assistant to give feedback about the product that is more exact. Now you'll know what is wrong, not just that something is. This feedback goes back to the retailer and the whole supply chain, all the way to the designer. The store can focus on ordering clothes that their customers like, and designers know what kind of modifications to the garment would make it sell.
        
  5. COLLECTION

    It is a very good idea to make it easy for the customer to skim through new items and the collections. They can find items that they didn't see while browsing the actual store, or see the same item on a model, and like it, although they didn't fall for it on the rack.
        
  6. CUSTOMER/VIP PROFILE

    a. WISHING LIST 

    As Sini Syrjälä writes in her blog post "It's beginning to look a lot like RFID Christmas", smart fitting rooms can come in very handy when Christmas or birthdays are coming up. Customers can give "hints" about gifts to their loved ones by creating personal wish lists that they can share by e-mail or social media.

    b. PERSONAL BODY PROFILE WITH MEASURES

    By creating a VIP profile, customers can be offered to do a so called body scan and save the information on their profile. Since the system knows the customer's exact measurements, even if the customer isn't entirely proportional, the system will be able to tell what size of a certain item is the most optimal for the customer. This is especially handy since sizes tend to vary from shop to shop and even garment to garment.

    c. SPECIAL VIP DISCOUNTS AND ADVANTAGES

    As the smart fitting rooms identifies that a VIP customer has entered, it can inform of special VIP offers and extra favors that the customer can collect.
        
  7. CAMERA AND /OR VIDEOCAMERA

    Cameras and/or video cameras in fitting rooms allow sharing of images and video clips in social media. They can also be saved in the customer's personal profile for later review as a base for buying decision or for showing a spouse or parent for advice or financial backing.
        
  8. VIDEOS

    The video application can inspire customers by allowing them to watch the retailer's video clips of catwalks, commercials and professional photo shoots of models. It's a great way to "steal" ideas and looks, and it strengthens the retailer brand.

SMART MIRRORS

Let's raise the steaks and talk about "super smart fitting rooms". With this I mean: a smart fitting room that is equipped with a so called "smart mirror". Smart mirrors can be installed on the shop floor outside the fitting rooms as well. Their purpose is to provide shoppers with a quick virtual look at one or several garments before they bother to try them on for real. So far these solutions are costly and the virtual experience leaves room for improvement. But after further development, this concept will definitely be a standard inventory in stores in the future.

A smart mirror works with the help of software that turns 2D images of garments into 3D images.  As a customer brings garments to an RFID reader by the smart mirror or on a smart shelf connected to the smart mirror, the reader will scan the tags of the garments and show them on the screen ("mirror"). By using gestures, the customer can point at the garments to select which ones to try out. After this the garments will appear as if they were dressed on the customer's body. Thanks to the 3D images and cameras filming the customer's movements, the customer can see how the garments look even as he or she moves and turns. The software also allows for several garments to overlap each other, so that customers can assess combinations and looks. By enabling shoppers to mix and match items far more quickly than trying on each garment separately, the store has the potential to increase sales tremendously. Smart mirrors can be equipped with all the same applications as on Personal Assistants. The applications can be on the smart mirror itself - meaning that the customer chooses between applications with gestures - or as a Personal Assistant beside the smart mirror.

THE SOFTWARE BEHIND THE "PERSONAL ASSISTANTS"

Smart fitting rooms are usually adopted as an "additional feature" after implementing RFID in the rest of the operations in the store. If the retailer already has implemented RFID, it means that the products already carry RFID tags and that a database with product information like; SKU, item classification, collection names, sizes and colours etc. of the garments already exists. If the retailer is in the multi-channel business, even lists of matching items for each garment might already be available. If so, most of the work is already done, if you have a working SQL equivalent relational database. If not, this is where the implementation begins.

The Personal Assistant can run on the operating system of the retailer's choice, on top of which a web-based user interface is created. The web based user interface can for instance be developed using HTML with PHP, generating the page content and with CSS defining the appearance. E.g. Java Script is recommended for communicating between the web server and the tablet computer and for reading the tags.

It's important to assess carefully what applications are needed in the Personal Assistant. The most common applications are mentioned above and others can be added according to the specific needs of the retailer. After the software coding for the applications is done and the user interface is designed, it's time to connect the personal assistant to the SQL database and voilà, you have a working customer interface in your fitting rooms.

OPTIMAL RFID READING IN SMART FITTING ROOMS

If we assume that the retailer already has implemented RFID to some extent, an RFID-friendly environment that ensures that the right tags - and only the right tags - are scanned efficiently is already in place.

As mentioned in Jessica Säilä's blog post "Managing environmental issues related to RFID", the position of the reader antenna(s) and the orientation of the RFID tags on the garments are important factors for creating an optimal reading environment. It is important to identify the main objectives, such as, what tags should be read and for how long. Should the tags remain in the Personal Assistant interface as long as the items are present in the fitting room, or should they disappear as soon as the customer walks out of the fitting room and not be displayed as the next customer walks in, although the tags might still be in the fitting room?

The materials used in the fitting room also affect the reading performance. Special paint and wall materials can be used to limit the area that the RFID readers scan. For more information about creating a smart fitting room with optimal reading conditions, check out Jessica's blog post more thoroughly.

"SMART FITTING ROOMS" CAN ALREADY BE TRIED OUT

Smart fitting rooms have been implemented around the world for years already. Galeria Kaufhof (Metro Group) in Essen, Germany introduced them to their customers already in 2007 and in 2011 Billabong sportswear in the Iguatemi Alphaville shopping mall in Barueri, Brazil tested out an RFID system with smart fitting rooms that attracted a lot of visitors. Interactive dressing rooms with smart mirrors have been implemented in a Prada store in New York City, from which customers can connect to social media. These are just a few examples, and there are lots and lots more out there.

Have you visited a store with smart fitting rooms and/or smart mirrors? Let us know where they were and how you found the experience.

RELATED ARTICLES:

"Managing environmental issues related to RFID" by Jessica Säilä
"It's beginning to look a lot like RFID Christmas" by Sini Syrjälä
"RFID - 5 most common applications on the shop floor" by Hanna Östman
"Smart shelves" - The store shelf of the future" by Sini Syrjälä

6 comments on “The “smart fitting room” concept”

  1. Posted 03 January 2013 at 12:59:19

    how about to make new Brazilians examples by Wave Labs expertise and equipment?

  2. Posted 03 January 2013 at 13:26:14

    Hello,

    Can you send us some more information on that to marketing@nordicid.com?

    We are eager to learn more. And maybe we can add examples here too. :)

  3. Gravatar of MaicholMaichol
    Posted 14 January 2013 at 12:17:16

    Question, what if a customer walks in with or 6 garments how will this be displayed on the screen ?

  4. Gravatar of Hanna ÖstmanHanna Östman
    Posted 21 January 2013 at 15:38:07

    It would depend on what the software is programmed to do. But one alternative would be to show all the items as a list on the display directly as the customer brings them into the fitting room. If the customer wants more information about a specific item, he/she only needs to select it and press "additional information" or something similar. It's logic should, according to my opinion, remind the customer of browsing on a web shop - making it easy to use the user interface intuitively.

  5. Posted 27 February 2013 at 15:42:48

    Congratulations. It is a good post. We have mounted several customers with smart fitting rooms who basically wanted to collect data about customers preferences.

  6. Gravatar of Hanna ÖstmanHanna Östman
    Posted 04 April 2013 at 08:53:00

    Thanks Pedro.

    I can see why, obtaining customer preference information is often the biggest motivator for implementing smart fitting rooms.

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