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Interactive “Magic Mirrors” Are Changing How We See Ourselves—And Shop

Retailers are betting on tech that, in an instant, gives customers personal skincare tips and lets them see how they look in different styles.

Interactive “Magic Mirrors” Are Changing How We See Ourselves—And Shop
MemoMi [Photos: courtesy of MemoMi]

“Mirror mirror on the wall, who has the darkest under-eye circles of them all?”

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When the Evil Queen summoned the magic mirror, the face staring back at her told her what she wanted to hear: She was the fairest of them all. Not a puffy peeper in sight.

Modern-day versions of that interactive mirror in stores and in our homes are much more honest.

I should know. I installed one in my bedroom.

The new HiMirror ($189) acts as a daily beauty consultant: A camera that sits on top of it closes in on your face and analyzes your skin’s wrinkles, blemishes, dark spots, and even clogged pores. The humidity-resistant mirror doubles as a computer screen. It uses voice commands and directs you to respond in hand gestures: You don’t push any buttons on the mirror, thereby avoiding fingerprints. Then, after several bright flashes, it switches from mirror to screen mode to offer a daily and weekly summary—via on-screen data chart—of how you’re aging and what you can do to battle the ravages of time. For example, it even figures in the weather and might tell you to wear SPF 50 on a sunny day.

The device is all part of an expanding use of tech to improve the consumer’s experience in stores, and in the privacy of their homes. Top brands such as Ralph Lauren, as well as department stores like Bergdorf Goodman, are investing in the technology. Interactive mirrors morph the image reflected back to quickly show how you look with different shades of eyeshadow or dress styles without actually putting them on. The goal is to keep consumers engaged and make them more confident in their purchases.

The home mirror I tried even had an accompanying Bluetooth-enabled scale that keeps track of your weight fluctuations and suggests exercise routines as needed. If that’s all too much for you, know that it can also play your favorite music (Kelly Clarkson can help soften the blow the mirror inflicts on your body image.)

Simon Shen, CEO of New Kino Group, was inspired to create the HiMirror after noticing his wife’s uneasy relationship with the bathroom scale, which she slid out from the corner when she feared she was gaining weight. It didn’t, as he puts it, offer daily value. Shen imagined a bathroom product that would let the consumer check in daily and become more proactive rather than reactive.

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“Lots of people have questions as to whether their [skin care] products are really effective, but there’s no scientific measurements,” Shen told Fast Company, “so by every day taking pictures and [analyzing] their skin, they can understand where there is improvement in their skin condition.”

I tried both the mirror and scale and found that a daily interactive diary of how you treat your face and body can be both a curse and a blessing, depending on your mental health. I can’t say it dramatically changed my habits—or encouraged me to throw out any of my beauty products—but, like a Weight Watchers program for my skin, it made me pay extra attention. I put on more sunscreen, spread serum more diligently, and maybe finally booked a facialist.

After a week, though, I suffered acute vanity fatigue. I’m into me, but not enough to see magnified, lighted photos of my flaws twice a day. I just wanted to look in a mirror and simply see my reflection—without any fuss. Taking care of my looks suddenly seemed like a lot of work.

But interactive mirrors go far beyond home use (and perhaps that is how they are best utilized—seldomly). They are most effectively being used by big retailers for multiple uses within the shopping room floor.

Interactive fitting rooms, for example, automatically recognize products through RFID tags, which sync up to available inventory in the store. Should a customer want a different size or style, she simply requests it from the computerized mirror by pushing a button. And if the consumer needs external input, the mirror image can be photographed or recorded in 360-degree views so that it can be sent to friends via email or social media.

Petah Marian, senior editor of retail intelligence at trend forecasting firm WGSN, sees stores attempting to bring together the best elements of the online and offline experiences. Smart mirrors offer brands data that is generally limited to the e-commerce sphere.

“Understanding which products are being tried on and not bought, what’s being sized up or down, or being styled together, is the physical equivalent to knowing what was put into an online shopper’s cart and not bought,” Marian explained. This allows retailers to understand which garments are popular, but also, to remind customers of what they tried on. Maybe they’re still thinking about it? Because customers must enter contact info to use the mirrors, companies can later email a little follow-up—sometimes even with a photo of their dressing room try-on, she says.

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The ability to retrieve essential contact information—without making the customer feel the transaction—is what has often been lacking in the physical environment. How often do you prefer to decline handing over your info when it’s asked at the register? Smart mirrors are a clever way to get a customer’s email address, dress size, and style preferences.

Salvador Nissi Vilcovsky, founder and CEO of MemoMi memory mirrors, which are found in Neiman Marcus locations, envisions his technology helping brands corral and manage data, much like harvesting website analytics. The dressing room MemoMi combines a full-length mirror with 70-inch LCD, computer, and an HD camera that records eight-second videos.

Salvador Nissi Vilcovsky

“For all these brands, millions of people come into their store and once they leave the store, there’s no trace of what happened in the session,” he said, “We’re pushing the same concept of e-commerce data collection and then tying it up with recommendations [in the physical world.]”

Data collection is crucial for product personalization, helping build a customer’s preference profile. When MemoMi devices are used at beauty counters, they seamlessly input all the RFID info used by the sales team on customers. As Vilcovsky put it, MeMomi intends to monitor all of a consumer’s wants and needs, though not in a creepy Big Brother way. Perhaps more like Big Brother Light: “We want to be the little sister that helps the customers,” he said.

But is the strategy working? Are customers opting in? There has been talk of consumer technology overload. Engineers aim to connect technological and physical worlds in the retail space, but the end result hasn’t always been optimal.

“The reality is the tech out right now is still kinda janky,” said Stefan Weitz, chief product and strategy officer of Radial, formerly known as eBay Enterprise, which created touchable dressing rooms for brands like Rebecca Minkoff. “There’s still a pretty high barrier to using these things.” The challenge is to create seamless, value-enhancing tech offerings so that consumers feel the output is worth the learning curve. Many first-generation products were slow, difficult to navigate, or incorporated formal, off-putting language.

And so far, there haven’t been enough case studies to prove a substantial consumer shift, and with tech invading everything we do, consumers may be suffering “a little (tech) fatigue,” says Weitz, adding, “retailers I know are fatigued spending money on it,” he says.

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Retailers generally don’t have the capital to compete with Amazon against core strengths like free same-day shipping, so instead, many try to leverage their network of retail stores to provide an exceptional customer experience. “It’s more about: How do you offer an experience to consumers in the physical world that feels like they’re on their iPad?” says Weitz.

MemoMi’s video playback and sharing capability sits well with experience-driven millennials, while stored personal preferences mirror the e-commerce profile model. Half of shoppers still prefer to shop in-store, so the emphasis on curating the experience is still strong. As Weitz notes, it’s just a matter of “bringing what they expect on digital into the physical.”

MemoMi hopes that by focusing on the backend software, versus overdosing on the consumer-facing front, their product will not overwhelm the average shopper. Meaning, there aren’t too many buttons and unnecessary features leaving you paralyzed with choice.

“People don’t appreciate technology for the sake of technology,” explained Vilcovsky. He believes in user design first, technology second. “What we are trying to do is create something that is very similar to what the user is used to [in real life],” he said, meaning that at it’s core, it’s a mirror, but enhanced in a minimalist way. “I’m always reducing functions and buttons,” he said of his desire for functional simplicity.

There’s certainly industry interest: Orders for MemoMi grew steadily in the last year. There are 58 MemoMi dressing room mirrors in 34 Neiman Marcus locations, mirrors that let customers try on makeup colors in 19 stores and mirrors to try on sunglass styles in 5 stores. In January, the company launched with 9 new brands. In 2017, “we will grow 100 percent,” promised Vilcovsky.

Neiman Marcus has seen a high rate of engagement and the high-end retailer will add a second phase rollout in 2017.

“It’s a way we can make things easier [for customers],” said Wendy Segal, corporate public relations manager of Neiman Marcus. “I know there is a need and want for more [interactive mirrors], and we trying to provide that as quickly as we can.”

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Despite their popularity, the mirrors are not replacing human customer service personnel, the store promises. Trained professionals must help consumers learn the process and following the tutorial, Neiman Marcus staff report they have witnessed more efficient customer service, he said.

“It is a given that the technology will be easy and intuitive, but I believe there is apprehension when customers encounter a new thing for the first time,” said Scott Emmons, head of  Neiman Marcus’ Innovation Lab.

Neiman Marcus recently released MemoMi sunglass mirrors in partnership with Luxottica, the eyewear company whose portfolio includes proprietary brands such as Ray-Ban, Oakley, and Vogue Eyewear, as well as licensed brands like Giorgio Armani, Burberry, Chanel, Coach, Dolce&Gabbana, and Michael Kors.

Previously, sunglasses were sold in their respective locked cases with personnel that needed to help customers unlock the merchandise. “It wasn’t a great experience,” said Fabrizio Uguzzoni, president of Luxottica Wholesale North America. With MemoMi, shoppers can digitally try on their preferred shades, sampling several at a time. A customer places their reflection in an aligned area of the mirror, at which point a computer-generated model of the glasses digitally appears on it.  

Uguzzoni says customers are spending more time at the counter, which leads to a higher probability of sales. Many are even coming back to buy the styles, if not buying on the spot, following feedback on shared social media of their try-ons. They’re also reportedly leaving more satisfied and confident that they purchased the right pair.

Luxottica is planning a wider release of mirrors in the coming months, with rollouts expected across the country. “We are looking at which are the next [stores],” said Uguzzoni, “we are currently designing the plan for 2017.”

While these first editions are already piquing consumer interest, it will be interesting to see how these companies streamline their services and innovate on their existing technology. MemoMi, for instance, will permit customers to digitally alter the color of their worn garments in fitting room mirrors. HiMirror, meanwhile, has ambitious plans for next year’s software update: you will be able to call through the mirror to their team of dermatologists. It will essentially become an telemedicine service. Like MemoMi, the company plans to expand into retail spaces in 2017.

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Will these new enhancements entice shoppers back to brick and mortar retail spaces? That depends on how good the tech gets and just how helpful fashionistas find it. But you can bet that if it gives retailers an edge on competitors, those magic mirrors will start popping up everywhere.

“Consumers are shopping in physical retail spaces less regularly, but when they do, they’re more willing to convert, so retailers need to arm themselves in any way they can,” says WGSN’s Marian. “Anything that helps to boost the service experience for the customer is a good thing.”

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