Mirror, mirror on the wall

2 min read


The UK is already a global leader when it comes to online shopping, with nearly £30bn of sales coming through this channel in 2011.

However, Prof Patrick Barwise, chairman of Which? believes there’s a danger that a focus on short-term profitability and reduced investment and innovation could damage Britain’s long-term ability to create the best shopping experience in the world.

But what is the best shopping experience in the world? Those on the panel at BT’s Retailtopia roundtable event in London this week, which Barwise chaired, seemed to think that technology enhanced the overall customer experience.

Some people enjoy the experience of scouring the shop floor for new outfits and hauling an enormous bundle of clothing into a changing room. But others find it all a bit of a hassle. Thankfully, augmented reality technology could save these people from this painful experience.

John Lewis and Debenhams are two of the latest department stores to trial virtual changing rooms. These high-tech hideaways are kitted out with a mirror that superimposes new outfits over the customer’s reflection. The intelligent mirrors, developed by Cisco, can also obtain the customer’s body measurements through electronic analysis, thus avoiding those awkward inside-leg measurements.

But these new shopping experiences aren’t limited to the high-street. The panel of retail experts predicted shoppers at home will eventually be able to use virtual changing rooms from the comfort of their living rooms.

Those who make the effort to venture beyond their front door will be rewarded with access to a cloud of in-store product information which they can access via their mobile phones or tablet devices. Customers will then be able to purchase their goods through their handsets or via other contactless payment methods, such as ‘wave and pay’, which is already available in shops such as Eat.

New technology is even finding its way into the products themselves. RFID tags, which contain more useful information than conventional barcodes, are being advanced all the time, as discussed in this article published in The Engineer recently.

Ralph Hengstenberg, marketing director for BT Global Services’ UK markets, believes RFID technology could lead to an intelligent shopping trolley that will make the shopping experience even more hassle-free.

‘One of the things that customers hate most is the concept of queuing. You take the shopping trolley and put goods into it, which are then taken out to be paid for, put back in to be taken to the car, and taken out again when they’re loaded into the car,’ said Hengstenberg.

Hengstenberg believes that shopping trolleys will use RFID readers to obtain an inventory of all the products placed into the trolley. The inventory will be shown on the trolleys electronic display, which will also be used by customers to pay for their items.

Peter Madden, chief executive of Forum for the Future, said our washing machines will be eventually be able to obtain information on how our clothes should be washed from the RFID tags within them.

I’ve touched on just a few of the more physical technologies in this blog but the core to all of them is a super fast broadband service, which keeps them updated and integrated.

While technology clearly has the potential to make things easier for customers, some may worry that the shopping experience will become soulless.  Would you rather be greeted by a real person at the door or a virtual mannequin?  Would you rather feel the clothes on your body instead or have them projected onto you? The lack of interaction with ‘real’ things could ring alarm bells in the minds of the sci-fi haters.