Could cool smart mirror in futuristic fitting room lead to creepy data tracking?

Ralph Lauren will use Oak Labs' futuristic fitting rooms with interactive smart mirrors; the mirrors are cool, but from a privacy perspective it could lead to potentially creepy data collection.

Oak Labs smart mirror and interactive fitting room
Credit: Oak Labs

Normally when you walk into a dressing room to try on clothes, the store may know how many items you carried in, but it doesn’t know precisely what items you took in and chose not purchase...unless there is some creepy hidden camera or a two-way mirror. What if a mirror in a dressing room is so smart that it can track the clothing you carry in as well as synchronize with the store’s inventory and point-of-sale systems?

Enter the smart mirror and fitting room of the future.

Oak Labs unveiled the Oak Fitting Room, which has an interactive full-length mirror and touchable screen. Depending upon the amount of customization, the smart mirror could cost $10,000 to $15,000. Ralph Lauren Corp. purchased 16 “full-size touch screen mirror units, eight of which are installed in Polo’s Fifth Avenue flagship at 55th Street here — four on the women’s floor and four on the men’s floor. There are plans to unveil the remaining eight mirrors in additional Polo doors in high-performing markets next month.”

How Oak Labs smart mirror works

What does a smart mirror in a smart fitting room do?

After walking through the store, selecting items to try on, and entering an Oak Fitting Room, the mirror would change from the default “resting” state of playing branded content to responding to your presence by a change in lighting. If you dislike that lighting, the mirror’s user interface offers other light setting choices.

An RFID antenna in the mirror reads the RFID tags on all clothing carried in and automatically displays the items side-by-side on the mirror, along with additional details like other color and size choices for each item. If you interact with the mirror by touching it, you can select a different color or even receive style recommendations.

Let’s say you like the style, but want to try a different color which is displayed on the mirror. Apparently there is a 65% chance that you would not ask for help; if you have to wait in a line over seven minutes long in order to ask about a different color or size, there is a 79% chance that you will abandon that purchase. That’s why the smart mirror allows you tap a choice to notify a sales associate to bring you the requested items.

The sales associate would see the request via an iPad app. WWD explained:

When an associate gets a request, the app doesn’t just notify them that they’ve received a request. Instead, they are informed of the exact style, color and size, as well as exactly where an in-store item is located. If it’s not on the floor and in a stock room, they are given the number to call the stock room to get the product.

The final step occurs when a customer presses the “I’m ready to check out” button and an associate comes over with a mobile point of sale to complete the purchase. If they wish to buy later, their mobile number can be entered and they will instantaneously get a text with a direct link to purchase all of the items they tried on during that session.

Oak Lab fitting room Oak Lab

Cool mirror; creepy data collection?

Healey Cypher, Oak Labs cofounder and CEO, was formerly the head of eBay's secret and later-shuttered retail innovation team. His cofounders include former eBay retail innovation executives. The company announced, “Starting with our interactive Oak Fitting Room, we’re enabling our retail partners to create magical and meaningful customer experiences, while capturing previously unattainable shopper insights.”

Put another way, those insights are all about allowing retailers to collect data. The smart mirror can track each item taken into the dressing room and keep track of how shoppers are interacting with the clothes. An item that is frequently carried into the fitting room but doesn’t sell could mean the look is popular but the fit is not.

“Equally valuable,” according to Entrepreneur, is “how customers interact with the touchscreen. Are they buying recommended items? How are they interacting with sales associates? Oak Labs analyzes the data and distills it into digestible and actionable insights.”

The data from the smart mirror also helps employers keep better track of employees. “Ralph Lauren, for example, can see how quickly and frequently its associates respond to requests made via the interactive mirror from shoppers.”

Cyper expects the level of customization to increase. The mirrors are merely the “first step.” He told Forbes, “This is our Nest Thermostat. It’s our first product and it builds on to the Oak operating system. As we produce additional products, every product will be part of our platform.”

“We are on the cusp of a tectonic shift,” Cypher said. “There’s this narrative that e-commerce collects better data – but online, it’s black and white. The physical world contains all these shades of grey that are truly interesting.”

While Oak Labs currently does not track a person’s purchase history, that could change. Cypher told Entrepreneur, “You can imagine a universe where you swipe your phone and [the dressing room] knows your favorite writing setting, favorite music, everything you've tried on.”

Cypher envisions a near-future in which the smart mirror doesn’t recognize just the clothing carried into the dressing room, “it would also access her entire purchase history, her lighting preferences and her interactions with previous sales associates along with hundreds of other data points.” He added, “There is so much we can do.”

And that is where the data collection and tracking seems to start getting creepy.

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