“Look, obviously this is something you can do at a CVS,” says Uri Minkoff, creative director and CEO of Rebecca Minkoff. He’s introducing me to the new self-checkout system at the fashion company’s Manhattan flagship store. It allows customers to buy anything from $200 handbags to $1,500 jackets, all on their own, all without dealing with a sales associate.
Most sales pitches I’ve heard don’t start with such a disclaimer–”clearly Duane Reade’s been doing this with toothpaste forever!”–especially not from a fashion brand that does more than $100 million in revenue a year.
“But it was this idea of, does luxury also include self-service?” he continues. “No lines? The comfort of being and dressing as who you are? Being able to be anonymous–and not being judged?” And suddenly, I’m curious–is the option to check yourself out at CVS a bit, dare I say, luxurious?
Minkoff’s new system, developed by Y Combinator startup QueueHop, is an RFID security tag that attaches to all items in the store. When placed on a checkout table, the item appears on an iPad screen, allowing you to pay. And once you pay, you place the tag onto another table, which unlocks the tag from the merchandise, and allows you to go on your way. (And if you leave without paying for the garment or removing the tag, an alarm will sound at the door.)
It’s worth noting that this tag is the first time that Rebecca Minkoff has used a clip-on anti-theft measure in a store, but Uri argues that it wasn’t a decision about reducing exorbitant amounts of theft–or what the industry calls “shrinkage”–nor was it an attempt to reduce employees, as head counts will stay the same. Instead, he says it was about pushing the consumer retail experience forward, and bridging the gap for people used to shopping online anonymously, who might also want to shop in a retail store with a similar solo mentality.
“When we were going through our initial technology layout, we took on the view that the millennial consumer either wanted to be treated like a celebrity–a VIP with full service–or anonymously. [We wondered] what if they could have the store to themselves after-hours? Or how could you approximate the online shopping experience that you’re checking out by yourself, and it’s very quiet?”
Rebecca Minkoff already enables a style of full-service anonymous shopping with its dressing room mirrors, which allow shoppers to call for another size or clothing item without calling out to sales associates. Self-checkout takes that mentality to the extreme, essentially allowing a customer to shop in a boutique-sized store without neck-breathing service. Meanwhile, Uri insists that sales associates shouldn’t lose out on their commissions as a result; associates can mark in the system if they’ve helped a customer that they didn’t actually ring up later.
But that’s not to say associates won’t be affected by the update. In fact, Uri hopes that in removing security from the minds of their own employees, he can eliminate the implicit biases that might stop their employees from giving the best, friendliest service possible.
“I call it the Pretty Woman moment. [Julia Roberts] walks into the boutique in Beverly Hills, and they’re kind of judging her,” says Uri. “That became apparent to me when I was giving a talk in Boston. A girl approached me after and she said, ‘Can I go into your store?’ In her questioning, she wasn’t sure she was ‘good enough’ to come in. It hit me. We all have a store or two where we wonder, ‘Are we dressed right?’ when we go in there.
“Is that [customer] really going to buy?” he continues. “That whole mentality and tension, what if you could remove that from the experience?”
Rebecca Minkoff’s new checkout was just installed this week to precede the remaining holiday rush. Uri admits that the company isn’t the first to enable the option–aside from CVS, Apple retail stores allow you to buy some items up to $100 on your own–but it may be the first company to enable self-checkout on some really expensive stock. And Uri hopes that other retailers copy the approach, killing lines, enabling anonymity, and letting technology police customers, rather than bias.
“Is this going to maximize our sales in a huge way? Probably not. Do we have a huge shrinkage problem? Probably not,” says Uri. “But we think it’s important for us to let our customer know that we get her.”