When accessories and apparel designer Rebecca Minkoff opened her eponymous company’s first store in Manhattan in November, she and her brother Uri, the business’s cofounder and CEO, wanted to create a wired environment where the tech was virtually invisible. "We hadn’t seen a lot of innovation in retail since the Apple stores," says Uri. "What if you took the best from a mobile experience and brought it into the store? We started coming up with names like Retail 3.0 or immersive commerce."
In early 2014, the brother-sister team began collaborating with eBay’s retail innovation group to build a new kind of in-store experience (see sidebar, below). When shoppers walk in the store, they are greeted by a huge screen that lets them finger-swipe through clothing styles and press send to my room to try on items. The dressing rooms are interactive too, with touch-screen mirrors that let customers request different sizes and send info about their session to their phones. Here’s how the Minkoffs are integrating tech with brick-and-mortar retail.
One early idea was to incorporate social media features into the dressing rooms, but ultimately the Minkoffs decided to "walk away from parlor tricks like sharing your selfie," says Uri. Instead, they focused on using technology to smooth out bumps in the shopping experience, such as trying to flag down a salesperson while undressed in a fitting room. Customers can also enhance the trying-on moment with customizable environmental lighting. "As a consumer I have certain pain points," like trying on a cocktail dress in blazing fluorescent light, says Rebecca. "I wanted to use technology to ease those moments."
When the Minkoffs did testing on the first version of their interactive mirror, they encountered an unexpected problem. They brought in a few employees to try it out in the context of an actual dressing room. "They walked out screaming, ‘I’d never ever use this!’ " says Uri. "I was like, ‘Why? What’s wrong?’ They said, ‘Those are fat mirrors—they make us look fat!’ " Not good. So the Minkoffs took the eBay team on a shopping trip to track down the most figure-friendly mirrors they could find, and eBay then incorporated the technology into them. "What was best for the tech team wasn’t best for the end consumer," says Uri. "Now [customers will] sit in front of those mirrors all day because they look skinny."
Digitally capturing shopping sessions is a convenience, but it’s also a data gold mine for the company. It can show what’s trending with customers in different stores and the brand can immediately alter both in-store and online marketing to reflect those preferences. "If we know that in New York people are taking denim into the dressing room, we can get hyperlocal with our marketing and can change the imagery on our interactive wall and email marketing," says Uri. "We’re going to treat the store like a software project where every quarter we’ll be rolling out new features. We’ll continue to see what’s working and what isn’t."
The Minkoffs decided early on that they’d need a big tech partner to pull off the interactive store, and Uri says he "stalked" eBay. They were wary of teaming with a behemoth, though. "In a big company, a project like this can get lost," Uri says. But eBay created an "almost autonomous team that was dedicated solely to this. It had very senior executives’ blessings and a very specific budget and timeline. That’s why it worked."
How the new interactive system in rebecca Minkoff's N.Y.C. boutique works.
As they enter the store, shoppers encounter a huge interactive screen that shows off Minkoff’s wares and allows customers to digitally choose items to try on. An iPad-armed salesperson then brings the requested clothes to a fitting room.
Inside the dressing room, RFID chips attached to the clothing’s tags trigger an interactive mirror to digitally display the items. Using the mirror’s touch screen, customers can ask a clerk to bring different sizes or styles and can customize their lighting.
Users who have the Rebecca Minkoff mobile app and PayPal can check out right in the dressing room. And if they decide not to buy anything, they can text themselves a digital record of the exact pieces and sizes they tried on in case they change their mind.
A version of this article appeared in the March 2015 issue of Fast Company magazine.