September 25, 2012, 3:16 PM

Bloomingdale’s tests virtual dressing rooms in stores

The augmented reality system will soon be available for online retailers, its maker says.

Lead Photo

In addition to clothes and accessories, technology was in vogue at Bloomingdale’s during New York’s Fashion Week, which took place Sept. 5-13. At 20 store locations, the high-end retailer temporarily opened virtual fitting rooms, called Swivel, which allowed shoppers standing in front of kiosks to see in 3D how items from its fall collection looked on them with just a few hand motions in front of a screen. On-screen tabs connected to the web let shoppers then share those images with friends via e-mail or social media.

To use the system, a customer steps up to the interactive screen of the kiosk, a sensor scans her body and her image appears in the middle of the screen in a window that looks like a standard video chat box. She can select items of clothing and accessories that are displayed around the edges of the box, which overlays them on her on-screen figure and keeps the fit as she moves around and angles herself in relation to the sensor.

Customers can try on multiple items at once with Swivel, such as lipstick, earrings and a dress, and shop by collection or style, according to FaceCake Marketing Technologies Inc., which builds the systems.

“Swivel is a great example of bringing the fun of technology together with the glamour of fashion,” says a spokeswoman for Bloomingdale’s, which did not release sales figures related to its Swivel demonstrations. “We are witnessing an enormous amount of interest from our shoppers in interactive ways to shop.” Bloomingdale’s is part of Macy’s Inc., No. 14 in the Internet Retailer Top 500.

In addition to an Internet connection, which ties the interactive screen to a retailer’s databases of inventory and product images, the augmented reality system requires only a flat-screen monitor and a Microsoft Kinect sensor system to work.

Swivel also includes a product recommendation engine that serves up items to a shopper based on not only her personal preferences, but her behavior in the virtual fitting room—what she’s looked at, what she’s tried on, how long she wore certain items, the number of times she re-tried on items—for example, the same dress with multiple purses—and how often she shared an item with friends online, says Linda Smith, FaceCake’s founder and CEO.

The engine recommends products from many categories to create a look, so a consumer trying on a black cocktail dress in Swivel, for example, may see on the edges of the screen a matching set of pearls and red lipstick, Smith says. Additionally, retailers may set their own recommendation rules to override the engine, she says, such as suggesting an A-line dress to shoppers with pear-shaped bodies when Swivel would suggest a sheath-fit.

Soon retailers will be able to add the technology to their e-commerce sites, too, with a version of the software that uses webcams, called Swivel Close Up, Smith says. Bloomingdale’s didn’t comment on any plans it may have for offering the Swivel application on its e-commerce site. This is not the first time the retailer has tried interactive mirror technology for shopping and social media; it briefly experimented with the concept in 2007.

With the data Swivel collects about products consumers have virtually tried on, it can provide analytics reports at global or local levels, Smith says, including which items are tried on the most overall or whether a particular shirt is more popular in New York than Atlanta.

FaceCake has also patented a technology that uses a shopper’s image from her Swivel try-on session to later show her banner ads of herself wearing different items while she browses the web, Smith says. The company is working to develop ads using this capability now, including ones in which consumers can try on various items right in the ad without leaving the page, she says.

Although Smith wouldn’t disclose pricing for either the store kiosk or web-based versions of Swivel, she says FaceCake plans to price Swivel to be affordable for a large number of retailers. The company likely will charge a monthly fee based on the number and types of products and promotions a merchant runs, she says. 

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