It’s plain to see that emerging technology has changed the retail experience beyond recognition.
We can shop on the internet anywhere, and at any time, without a physical cash transaction and have it delivered to us in what can feel like the blink of an eye. In times where retail fashion can be bought in seconds and free returns mean that your apartment can be an at-home changing room, I was interested to talk last week to Healey Cypher, co-founder and CEO of Oak and creator of a hardware enabled platform that uses mirrors as a conduit to transform the retail experience.
Oak has creating the Oak Mirror, a connected device that turns the bricks-and-mortar retail experience into one that is closer in reality to what we have come accustomed to online. Cypher reminded me that while it’s easy to do your shopping online, it still only accounts for a small amount of all retail sales:
“In-store sales are still up to 95% of all retail experiences and e-commerce is less than 7% of all retail transactions. Retail is a $12 trillion industry that employs a quarter of the people in the US. and accounts for 50% of expenditure of disposable income.”
It is an sector that Cypher is passionate about, particularly in regard to improving the customer experience. Usually trying on clothing means stumbling around a store semi-dressed to find a different size or dealing with the ministrations of an overeager sales attendant who whips back the curtain to catch you in your…unawares.
But Oak wants to make that a thing of the past.
They currently have embedded their technology in a range of Ralph Lauren stores in the US. All in-store items are connected to it with RFID chips. This means an almost self-curated shopping experience. Any clothes you select to try on appear on a connected touch screen which is part of the dressing room mirror. Need a new size or a different color? Just tap the screen and a store assistant – each outfitted with a corresponding iPad – brings you your choice. The screen also offers you styling recommendations based on what’s available in store and you can email your selection to yourself for future consideration.
For those a little more discerning, the mirror even offered a variety of lighting experiences: Fifth Avenue Daylight, East Hampton Sunset and Evening at The Polo Bar.
It’s easy to dismiss such notions as gimmick but the reality is that Oak see the benefits of their platform far beyond novelty factors.
“The RFID gives perfect data. This means stores can always know what’s in stock at a glance, including size and colors. The average industry inventory accuracy is 65% in retail. It also enables buyers to see what other people bring into the fitting room and what items they are buying together. You learn whether certain items are always tried in one size but bought in another or tried but never purchased”.
All of which is especially important for fashion houses, especially those that stock “fast fashion,” defined as fashion cycles of six weeks or less.
Cypher admits that fashion is a traditional industry that has in some respects been slow to adopt technology. Two of the leading reasons he attributes this to are generational norms – “Younger, digital natives are more likely to adopt this technology than older store owners” – and also the difficulty in “getting retailers uses to expending capital on technology. They are more likely to see the value in expenditure on their front of house signage.”
Yet, as Cypher notes, “consumers want things fast, easy, beautiful, robust and personal.” This will be the reality of retail fashion, and Oak is keen to be part of this innovation, blurring the boundaries between the digital and physical retail experience.