2010.41 | Introducing New Technology

Macy's Magic Fitting RoomMacy’s Magic Fitting Room is working to close the gap between the digital and real world experience at the stores.  The limited time installation includes a large scale multi-touch screen that allows customers to “try-on” clothes virtually and send out the resulting images to various social media platforms.

One must applaud the ingenuity in trying something new with this technology, and am curious as to their future intent with it.   I wonder if this could represent a future home installation, somewhat like Virtual Mirror.

The solution is obviously not aimed at my demographic, as I don’t see the point in trying something on ‘virtually’. Why not try on the real thing?  The clients are standing right near all of the product anyway.  With women’s fashions, my understanding is that while the look is important, the fit of the item is a huge issue.  Women’s clothing presents significant variation in fit from garment to garment and the way the clothing hangs from the body can be very different than any virtual image you see on a screen.  The retailer may also be encouraging a customer to try on a product that is not available in the customers’ size, meaning they have invested time and effort to find something that they can’t have.

As far as sharing anything on social media, most women I know (beyond their high school prom) intend to make an entrance with a new ensemble.  They are hardly likely to broadcast how they look in a new outfit to all of their friends before they even buy it; especially considering the fact that many of their social media ‘friends’ will probably be at any event they are purchasing for.  It could take away from the thrill of a new purchase.

Now, I understand that there are demographics that are not mine, and this solution may be just what that demographic have been looking for.  I haven’t attempted use of the solution either, being located away from New York, so all of these points may be well answered by the solution.

This type of implementation is generally more of a novelty than a true long term solution, which brings up the ongoing question in Retail Technology – what is the right balance between new technology and operational benefit?  How does a retailer know if they should proceed with a solution as a part of their default store technology moving forward.  Here are a few hints:

ROI – Unless technology is being used for PR or to suit a government requirement, there are only two ways to improve a business, retail or not – increase revenue or decrease costs.  These potential benefits need to be balanced with the capital and operating costs of any new solution.  Everyone knows that crystal balls are rare, so the revenue win is tough to sell internally without some serious proof. Costs are easier to justify as the logic is generally quite obvious – one can make a store remove a resource or redeploy it, and those costs are known and if reduced can be allocated to the project.  If we look at the Magic Fitting Room, it appears that revenue uptick is the key sell here.  The challenge will be whether what works in New York City will translate across the country and whether the business will sign up for the increase in their revenue objective if the solution is implemented.  The answer could well be yes, but sober second thought must come into the picture to ensure that long term benefits are fully analyzed prior to implementation.

Long Term Viability – iPads, Multitouch Screens, Large Format Widescreens and Social Media are the items I hear about a great deal when I talk to retailers, and it’s not surprising as that’s what interests society at large about technology.  These are all sexy solutions with tangible and visibly appealing assets to show off in stores.  I am personally a huge fan of all of these things, but consider a few questions:  Are these products built to be used in a retail environment for many years?  (Ever dropped an iPad?) Are these platforms proven for use in a retail environment with all of the problems of dust, dirt, thousands of touches, impatient and untrained customers, coffee spills, and more?  If the fundamental functionality of a solution is around sharing pictures on Facebook and Twitter, what about the dependency on those changing platforms moving forward?  Once again, the solution may well be worth it, but retailers must consider the fact that implementing solutions like this is costly and given today’s increasing pace of change, retail customers will now bring technology with them to the store that will outpace what can be put in the store.  Whatever is used, it’s important to invest in commercial grade solutions and to try to leverage whatever devices the consumer brings with them where viable and appropriate to minimize investment.

Ongoing Support – There are two sides to this one.  First, on the traditional break/fix side of the equation, what are the costs going to be?  The cost of an iPad approaches the cost of a regular Point of Sale eBox.  It is unlikely that an iPad will last the 7-12 years a retailer will want from a POS, and depending on the situation, it is either a non-repairable or swappable item on site.  If it is swappable, an inventory of iPads will need to be kept available.  While certainly answerable, these issues need to be considered, and all costs carefully accounted for.  Secondly, these sorts of media rich platforms have a cost to  keep them current. In order to keep consumer interest the media will need to be fresh – new commercials, new products, and updated offers and promotions. This is always the hardest part of media rich solutions and social media – it essentially requires ongoing resources to be successful – something people may not have time for, and for which retailers may not be well organized.  While this may be a terrific outlet for marketing, do they have the people and resources to update the solution?  Most retailers don’t keep this kind of creative talent on staff.  The cost of these creative campaigns needs to be considered in the balance of benefits.

Fit to Demographic – Does the platform suit the targeted market of the retailer?  42% of Canadians are on Facebook, but are they the 42% that buy from your store?  Is your average senior citizen on ‘The Twitter’? Are the platforms user friendly? Most people will give you a puzzled look.  The iPad is easy to use, a 2 year old loves it.  I agree, but how many users beyond a certain age and background show interest or comfort in pinching to zoom or using any multi-touch interface elements?  The Magic Fitting Room is in NYC full of young, moneyed professionals carrying smartphones; it probably fits that situation.  It is important to consider the fit of a solution across an entire chain.

Operational Integration – The most important and often overlooked solution element is how it fits into the ongoing operations of a retailer site.  Does the solution ensure that product offered is on site?  Does it direct customers to the right locations and resources in a store?  Is the solution updated as situations change?  If there are any inconsistencies in the solution that put the on-site staff in an awkward position it doesn’t allow for a consistent and flawless shopping experience and on-site staff will distance themselves from it to avoid the wrath and complaints of customers.  It’s important to be clear to on-site staff as to the functionality – what it does and doesn’t do.  It’s also important to underscore to staff the upper management commitment to a solution to ensure its long term use and life.

Every consumer facing organization has to make challenging decisions on technology.  Each organization has its own needs and requirements – make sure all of the elements are considered.  Technology could well be the answer.

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