Co.Design

Microsoft’s Smart Fitting Room Is Like A Robo-Shop Clerk

What does a smarter, more connected clothing store look like? A lot like the clothing stores of today.

Imagine a fitting room that knows what clothing you’ve brought in--the cut, size, and color. And if something doesn't fit, it could retrieve another garment with the push of a button.

It’s not such a sci-fi idea. In fact, a new project by Accenture, Avanade, and Microsoft has prototyped exactly this. Dubbed “the Connected Fitting Room,” it uses RFID technology to track what you try on and call for what you’d like to try next--to make more of what’s happening in this private, underwear-clad space a bit more transparent for the customer and the retailer.

“You have no help as the customer in the fitting room. You’re inside a box looking after yourself. And there’s no view from the store’s side as to what’s happening,” explains Microsoft Internet of Things UK Commercial Lead, Simon Francis. “You go into the fitting room, you try on the clothes, and you leave. It’s a crime scene as to what happened." The store can only determine, from the clues of clothing, what has transpired inside, and whether the customer left happy.

In the Connected Fitting Room, each garment in the store is labeled with an RFID tag--a low-power radio transmitter that identifies itself, like, “Hey, I’m a medium Ralph Lauren plaid shirt!” Then, inside the fitting room, there’s a an RFID reader. So when a shopper walks into the room, that clothing uploads to the network, and then it appears on a screen in the room. Want another size or color? Just tap the screen, and a clerk will receive the notification to his or her mobile device and fetch the garment without that awkward, shouting over the fitting room door maneuver.

There are other benefits on the retailer’s end. For one, that screen allows the store to make suggestions as to other items that may go with what you’re trying on. “Guys typically go in with a T-shirt and walk out with a T-shirt,” Francis says, “but if you say, 30% of people who bought this T-shirt also bought this pair of jeans, you carry on that connection.”

Plus, the store has access to more customer information. A store manager could use a dashboard to see what times of day fitting rooms are most full, allowing him or her to schedule the staff’s responsibilities more efficiently. The manager could even track the inventory tried on versus the inventory purchased. “If everyone is trying on a pair of 34 jeans but buying a pair of 36, maybe there are some sizing issues as well,” Francis explains.

The only catch is, the fitting room is private for a reason--it's an intimate place where we are not just semi-nude, but often caught in an extremely insecure mental state, trying on new clothing that might challenge our own self-image. Do we really want sales clerks, or big data managers, eavesdropping on those moments when we exchange a shirt for an XL? From what we can tell, clerk help only comes on-demand in this system. (You could always ignore the software and get a new pair of jeans yourself.) Even still, as soon as you walk into that dressing room with your RFID-tagged clothing in-hand, a private ritual has become just a bit public.

The Connected Changing Room is currently operating as a pilot program at undisclosed retail stores.

Learn more here.

[Hat tip: the Telegraph]

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