Bloomingdale's Mirror Effort Gets Shoppers Out Of The Dressing Room And Into The Database

When Bloomingdale's trialed the latest version of the virtual mirror at 20 of its stores this past Fall, the chain's pitch to consumers was one of convenience and modesty. Shoppers could try on lots of clothes and accessories without having to take off their clothes. But the real benefit was in another type of exposure: Getting shoppers to try on, accept and sometimes reject, outfit after outfit, and do it all while being recorded and having every choice captured and catalogued for marketing.

The data went to Bloomingdale's in aggregate, but the system could just as easily deliver CRM-friendly customer-specific data. The mirrors enable shoppers to try on far more outfits and combinations than time—or store inventory—would ever permit.

The system Bloomingdale's used is called Swivel, from FaceCake Marketing. Mirror approaches have been tried many times, but they haven't found any great success. Bloomingdale's was actually one of the first retailers to try a mirror tactic, way back in 2007. John Lewis in the U.K. tried it last year, with lackluster results.

This Swivel approach seems more likely to gain traction, although it still needs work. The online demo shows the clothes not exactly staying where they are supposed to, pushed aside (albeit briefly) every time the shopper moves an inch or so. So, yes, it's hardly modern motion picture-quality CGI. But for an experimental retail technology, it seems to do what it needs to do.

The point is not precise video as much as, "Does it give shoppers persuasive reasons to use it?" It seems to. The system not only enables the most clothing samples to be tried in the least amount of time, but it enables several items to be tried simultaneously—such as a shirt with a recommended scarf and necklace. No clasping needed for the necklace and no tying needed for the scarf.

As for getting customers' to share their identity, it's not difficult, said Donna Amato, FaceCake's marketing director. "You just have a promotion. 'You put in your name, try five gowns and get $15 off,'" she said.

The screen not only displays a constantly changing assortment of recommended add-ons—they change as the shopper indicates more likes and dislikes through her choices—but also enables direct purchases from the same screen.

In terms of the cost for the system, Amato said they vary wildly, depending on many customization options. "Bloomingdale's provided us a very nice piece of furniture that they built to house the flat-screen TV," she said, adding that it was designed to fit into the Bloomingdale's look-and-feel.

As a practical matter, the best use of such a virtual demo is to enable a shopper to narrow down a list of what she truly wants to buy. But she would still use the old-fashioned changing rooms to try the suggestions the screen made her want.

That speaks to the current limitations of this approach. Until the system can accurately replicate the feel of the material and the exact way a garment hangs on the customer, those drawbacks will still be there. Then again, can the typical dressing room mirror easily show how an outfit looks from the back, without neck pain? Looking into a mirror to see the reflection of another mirror? Not nearly as cool as even bad CGI.