Will shoppers use Ralph Lauren's RFID dressing room?

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Even your closet has gone digital, thanks to these three apps that organize your wardrobe and offer advice on what to wear.

Giving shoppers an easy way to summon an associate is bad news if you don't have associates to respond quickly

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Retail's bizarre fascination with high-tech mirrors that shoppers show no interest in using at all continues. This time it's Ralph Lauren toying with RFID-enabled dressing-room mirrors.

In the Ralph Lauren trial, RFID tags embedded in clothing are detected by the dressing-room mirror. Details about those items are displayed on the mirror (several languages are supported), and the system also appears to sync with inventory and point-of-sale systems. The best part, though, has nothing to do with RFID or database integration. It's the mirror's ability to mimic the lighting of various environments. According to the demo video, some of its lighting options are white, dusk, club and — I am not making this up — aquarium (as in, "This suit looks nice, but how will it look if I ever have to go to a formal event at an aquarium?").

Other lighting options are tailored to the Ralph Lauren brand: "Fifth Avenue Daylight," "East Hampton Sunset" and "Evening at the Polo Bar," according to a story in RFID 24/7.

That lighting trick is nice because — fish-watching notwithstanding — it is a capability that apparel shoppers actually want. So many of the retail mirror capabilities are very impressive offerings that neatly fall into the "solution in search of a problem" category.

But the capability that Ralph Lauren is touting is the one where most retailers lose it when doing mirror trials. Consider this from that RFID 24/7 piece: "All requests made by the customer in the fitting room are immediately delivered to a retail associate via iPad. Sales associates can respond to a shopper’s request with a note that appears on the fitting room mirror (for example, 'I’ll be right there') alongside their name and photo."

This is one of those attributes that sound great in the executive demo bit dissolve in the field. The reason is simple. There are really just two possible realities for your store staffing: You either have enough associates to handle your flow of customers, or you don't. Realistically, most stores morph from one of these realities to another from day to day and from hour to hour. When you have plenty of associates to tend to shoppers, the mirror notification is rarely needed, because an associate is generally nearby. It's when you do not have enough people that shoppers beg for easier access to those associates.

But the "magic" in those magic mirrors is not really magic. If it's the hectic holiday time and you have more shoppers than your associates can handle, not only will mirror alerts not help, but they will likely make things worse. Not being able to find an associate is frustrating, but it's not nearly as bad as finding an associate who then opts to ignore you.

What do you think will happen when shoppers start asking these mirrors to deliver store associates who are busy with other customers? Giving shoppers a means to immediately request an associate just leads to very angry shoppers if you don't have enough associates to service them.

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