When Technology meets Retail

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Photo Courtesy of: Rebecca Minkoff

Tech and fashion, two of hottest topics are merging together. To find out more about how fashion designers are incorporating technology, I decided to head to 96 Green St. to Rebecca Minkoff’s store in Soho, Manhattan. I wanted to get a feel for what everyone seems to be whispering about: ‘The Store of the Future’ with features including a “digital wall”, digital changing rooms including smart mirrors, and self-checkout. These stores have been credited with pioneering the use of technology in retail and fashion stores, and tripling clothing sales. But what is it actually like to experience the technology first-hand? In this blog I want to talk less about the technology, and more about the all important customer experience.

I walk into the store and immediately from the collection to the aesthetic I feel like I’ve entered the ‘cool girl’ world. I’m greeted by a state-of-the-art touch screen wall at the front of the store, I’m staring at it for a long moment before a salesman came to ask me if I needed any help. To be completely honest I did need help, I guess it must’ve been because I was the only one at the store at that moment and it felt a bit intimidating.

Immediately I tell him, what I was doing there, I wasn’t planning on doing any shopping, I just wanted to play with the technology, feel for it myself then come home, and write an article about it. That simple. Very enthusiastically the gentleman agreed to take me on a ‘tech’ tour of everything and explain how it all works. We started of course with the touch screen, once you’ve tapped it, you can order yourself a beverage from coffee to tea, to sparkling water and champagne. He chuckles and tells me ‘everyone chooses the bubbly’, of course everyone would. My eyes widen and I quietly squeal, well this is a new way to start shopping I think to myself. Moving on from the drink request, we come to Rebecca’s “lookbook”, and as we flip through, you can see all the looks that have been put together, and from these we can view the individual items. With those items, we can select the size, color and decide if we want to try it on; I start tapping away randomly just to feel the screen for myself and take a look at everything.

When your drink and fitting room are ready you will get a notification on your mobile device indicating it’s time to head into the dressing room. Each room has a smart mirror installed that identifies when a visitor enters the fitting room with an item, as they contain a Radio Frequency Identification tag (RFID) which activates the smart mirror. Now this gets cool, once the mirror is activated, the items that you’ve chosen to try on, will pop up on the screen, and not only will you see your items, but you also see other pieces that you can pair your items with – whether bags, shoes, or accessories. Did I also mention that you can set the dressing room to whatever lighting you prefer, such as “Hudson River Sunset”? Minkoff’s not the first one to have the lighting option incorporated in the dressing room, but it’s nonetheless very chic.

The last thing that we look at is the self checkout station, which to be honest was what I was most curious about. The idea of self checkout at a designer store makes you wonder about the security measures. The salesman again was pleased to walk me through that process and the system, which was partly developed by a startup named QueueHop, using RFID chips and iPads. Once you place your item on the table, your product will come up on the iPad and you are ready to enter your information and swipe your credit card. Now to the security question, the items all have security tags, therefore once you’ve paid you must manually take the security tag off. Then once you have removed the security tag and the transaction is complete, the powered table will turn green and that will be your signal to take your item and go strut down Soho. This means the experience is not quite as seamless as what other retailers are aiming for, such as the new Amazon Go stores, where you can just walk out with your purchases.

When we were done with the tour I ask him whether it’s true that the reason for this self checkout and interface-to-face service is ‘because millennials like to avoid speaking to sales associate’? This was what Rebecca Minkoff’s CEO Uri Minkoff had previously claimed. However the salesman quickly denied it; he said it was just a new and exciting way for a shopper to have a more intimate shopping experience and not feel judged for what they are buy. I like the way Uri Minkoff refers to it in a different statement: “the Pretty Woman moment”, where you can shop with as much privacy as you wish. To me that philosophy is something I agree with, I want to have my Pretty Woman moment, and knowing I will not be judged whether I spend $100 or $1000.

I left the store feeling like I got so much more than I expected. What the store has done is in some ways not revolutionary, as it makes use of mature technology such as RFID tags. But, at the same time, by using existing technology in new ways, they have transformed the experience of shopping. For that I admire the brand. And it’s also why so many other leading fashion brands are looking at incorporating similar technology.

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