Japanese RFID-In-Hanger Trial Raises Questions About Extra Labor, Customer Distractions

A Japanese department store, 109 Men's in Shibuya, has begun experiments with RFID chips embedded in clothes hangers. The idea is that a customer who takes clothing off the rack would trigger associated video, lighting and music, along with a log of the action. But will such a system be worth the non-trivial amount of extra labor involved?

When customers bring clothes to a dressing room—or even when those apparel items are purchased—there would seem to be a strong chance that the wrong hangers could get associated with the wrong piece of clothing. Attentive associates could painstakingly note the numbers of each identical hanger to make sure one item doesn't get confused with another. That would seem to demand a sharp labor increase, though.

But one posted video of the hangers in action points out some other issues. In a crowded area, wouldn't the music played for one customer interfere with that played for another? How does the system connect the customer with recommended associated items? How does the customer even know that the video and music being played is associated with the product he/she just touched?

The hanger effort prompted a very interesting discussion over at RetailWire, where most thought the technology—even if it works—would be too annoying and, therefore, counterproductive.

"This seems a little like a child saying, 'Look at me, look at me' while you're trying to shop: a distraction," said Bob Phibbs of The Retail Doctor & Associates. "Focus, that is what is being compromised on the sales floor these days by technology."

Added Christopher Ramey of Affluent Insights: "Interrupting a customer while they're considering an item is a poor idea. Furthermore, consumers desire privacy. A screen telling all in the store that a customer just touched a hanger is a great way to ensure that customers don't touch many hangers."

Our favorite comment on this story, though, came from Gizmodo: "How could you resist a leather jacket if Bad To The Bone started playing while you tried it on?"