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Smokin' mirrors

By Janet Groeber
August 07, 2012

Photo Courtesy of Clive Grinyer, Cisco, London
John Lewis, a chain of 36 department stores throughout England, Scotland and Wales, offered customers a virtual way to try on clothes earlier this year. And they did it with mirrors—two 6-ft.-by-3-ft. interactive mirrors dubbed Cisco StyleMe Virtual Fashion Mirrors from San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco Systems Inc.

Equipped with cameras and scanning software, the StyleMe mirrors launched April 20th for a six-week pilot program in John Lewis’ London flagship on 
Oxford Street. Located on the first floor in the women’s department, the StyleMe mirrors transformed a small amount of prime real estate into virtual changing rooms, where customers—using an interactive screen—could put together outfits from more than 500 women’s garments and accessories selected from 

Cisco StyleMe incorporates built-in, depth-sensing cameras (from PrimeSense) that capture the shopper’s body dimensions and positioning. Further equipped with an artificial intelligence engine—combining image analytics, virtual reality and gesture-recognition technology—StyleMe is able to superimpose clothing items over the customer’s on-screen image, eliminating the need for undressing.

Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG), along with additional retail technology partners, developed 
StyleMe, a “mashopping” solution that brings together virtual and physical worlds to the store environment. London-based Lisa Fretwell, IBSG’s senior director, global retail practice, notes that each step of the StyleMe experience was designed from the customer’s point of view. After considering several options, the design team settled on a screen layout with five main sections: entering information, building outfits, storing items in a digital wardrobe, trying on outfits and making purchases. “This allowed a large enough area for customers to see themselves in the virtual mirror, while leaving adequate room on the screen for functional icons,” Fretwell says. “The user interface also was designed so that customers could build and try on an outfit using a maximum of only three gestures.”

Cisco Cius, a mobile collaboration enterprise tablet, allows store associates to manage StyleMe, as well as guide customers through the virtual process. Shoppers first register their name and email on the tablet. While the customer is interacting with StyleMe, store associates use Cius to control the screen, review the customer’s digital wardrobe and pictures, and to check whether items are in stock. They can have selected garments brought to a traditional fitting room or cashwrap, and associates also can help customers place online orders for home or store delivery.

Shoppers can search for clothes by brand name, garment type, price, color, size and availability. As desired items appear, customers select and save the clothing to a digital wardrobe, where they can view further details, including recommendations, accessories and the same items in different colors. Shoppers can try on individual garments or entire outfits virtually, as well as take a picture to keep or share with others. These photos can be stored in their digital wardrobe and shared with friends and family via Facebook or other social networking sites, to receive feedback before finalizing and making a purchase.

Among the many drivers StyleMe offers is its potential to grow cross-channel sales by giving customers access to goods both online (which is growing every year) and in-store. 

“Our goal is to be a leader in the multichannel world,” explains Simon Russell, head of multichannel sales for John Lewis. “With Cisco StyleMe, our customers can see our entire 
assortment, try on many different outfits, and get the sizes and colors they want.  And because they can use social media to share and get advice, they’ll be inspired to shop and buy even more.”

To date, customer feedback is positive, especially with female shoppers in their 20s, who enjoy shopping with friends and use social media to share finds and receive feedback, and baby boomers, who like the benefits of easily trying on outfits, plus in-store advice, which mitigates any technology apprehensions. And the StyleMe mirrors have proved popular—20 to 30 customers a day have used them for an average of 30 minutes each. 

Although the pilot period has concluded, John Lewis has not yet announced its plans for future inclusion. Perhaps StyleMe mirrors could find their way to John Lewis’ Exeter store scheduled to open this fall.