With few variations, buying clothes from a store involves a well-worn routine: Browse the racks, select a few garments based on vanity, price, need and other factors, then try them on in the dressing room.
But what if you didn’t have to drag items into the dressing room and could still see what the outfit will look like on you? Or what if the store didn’t have your size? Help is just a touch screen tap away.
Designed as a new kind of shopping experience that combines the best of online and in-store shopping behaviors, the concept is part of Intel’s “Connected Store” that showcases the company’s latest technology for the retail and digital signage markets. Intel’s “Retail Interactive Fashion Experience” enables shoppers to use digital signs with multi-touch commands to browse through the store’s inventory of blouses, dresses, pants, and accessories. The user interacts with on-screen controls to filter contents by price, style, material, size and other categories.
Potential candidates are sent to a “favorites” area on the screen, and from there the consumer can combine pieces creating outfits over a digital mannequin. Solo shoppers can even get a second opinion by sending a snapshot of their picks to friends and family for real-time feedback.
Shopping the technology around
Intel is currently in talks with apparel makers and retailers, including a national department store chain, to deploy the concept in hopes of convincing them that this invention – or a customized version — could result in increased customer brand loyalty and improved profitability, among other benefits. At the National Retail Federation Conference earlier this year, Intel teamed up with adidas, Best Buy, Kraft Foods, and Proctor and Gamble, in addition to the MIT Media lab, to create a futuristic showcase and demonstrate what’s possible.
“It’s not our intention for this solution to be sold as-is. It’s a conceptual thing.” said Shailesh Chaudhry, a strategic marketing manager in Intel’s Retail Innovation division. “We’re using this proof of concept to drive engagements,”
So if a retailer is turned off by the prospect of a large 85-inch plasma screen, that’s fine with Intel, which will build to suit.
“Our goal is to drive retail innovation and deploy a brand new category based on our technology.” Chaudhry said.
One industry analyst who thinks Intel might be onto something, albeit somewhat ill-timed, is Gartner’s Van Baker.
“What Intel has is going toward where the future of retail is going,” said Baker, who covers consumer behavior as it relates to emerging technologies in the retail industry. “I don’t think we’re going to be there soon, but it puts an interesting concept in the market and gives retailers a version of where things might be heading.”
Intel’s concept is being marketed at a time when retailers have other things on their mind besides newfangled technologies, according to Baker.
“Retailers are worried about revenue right now and consumers opening their wallets again,” he said. “They’re focusing on the basics right now: having the right products, having them in stock, having them priced right and merchandising them well. They’re going to stay focused there until there’s evidence the economy is turning around.
“It’s not the environment for retailers to be marching forward and investing in leading-edge solutions. Their thinking is if nobody’s walking in the door then it doesn’t matter.”
Hand gloves to baseball gloves
Intel’s concept is “very scalable,” according to Chaudhry. A sporting goods store, for instance, could have a large selection of baseball mitts, but good luck to the lefty looking for an adult-sized pitcher’s glove. The digital sign could let the southpaw know availability and cost, and if the search comes up empty and the player is patient, swipes of the customer’s loyalty and credit cards would have the item shipped prepaid from a central warehouse.
“A lot of the technology Intel is demonstrating lets retailers better leverage inventory assets with their store and warehouse operations,” Baker said.
Baker repeatedly cited a recent study that found that 67 percent of people who go into a store and have a lousy experience with a sales associate will simply leave.
“If you can, through a self-service kind of approach, get customers the information they need to make a purchase decision, even if the sales associate is hard to come by or not knowledgeable, that bodes well for the retailer,” Baker said.
“Our data also shows that people like to go online and do a lot of research first, then go in a store and buy the product. If a retailer is able to give the consumer an online type of experience in the store to help them find, say, a type of garment in an assortment of colors, this extension creates an environment where this type of technology can help create revenue.”
Chaudhry said because competition is light, acceptance of these new proof of concepts is slow, which is why you may not have seen one.
“When working with the retail industry, there’s a long lead time for anything like this,” he said. “There’s the prototype, then pilots of multiple kinds that can take years. Then after even more stages, and if everything is successful, there’s overall technology integration. You have to connect them back to their existing infrastructure.”
If discussions continue to go as well as Chaudhry said they are with one particular department store, shoppers could be trying on clothes with the help of Intel technology within a few years.