Mirror, Mirror On the Wall: How Does This Dress Look in Green?

Xconomy National — 

These days, it’s not just Snow White’s stepmother who has a mirror that talks back.

Thanks to augmented reality, Internet of Things, and data analytics technologies, more of us might be confronted with so-called “smart mirrors” the next time we try on clothes or accessories in a store. While mirrors are typically static pieces of glass, they are now being converted into high-tech portals that can make suggestions to complete an outfit, transport the reflected image into a beach scene or cityscape, and save a shopper’s personal makeup tutorials for future reference.

“This is a really interesting moment in a land grab for the virtual space in retail,” says Jenni Samuels, vice president for partnerships and marketing at Oak Labs, which makes smart mirror technology.

San Francisco-based Oak Labs makes smart mirrors for fitting rooms, with a display that can read RFID tags on clothes and show images of the items on the screen. By touching the mirror, users can request different colors and sizes for an item from store assistants, request stylist recommendations from the device itself, and even complete purchases via the screen. Shoppers can also adjust the lighting—options include “dusk” and “club”— choose a language with which to communicate with the device, and text a video of the entire session to a smartphone.

Founded by former eBay executives in 2015, Oak Labs’ mission is to merge physical retailing with e-commerce, Samuels says. While brick-and-mortar stores and online shopping share some characteristics—walking into a store is similar to calling up a landing page—the physical fitting room has been left behind, she adds. “The fitting room, which can be compared to the shopping cart, is completely devoid of data collection,” Samuels says. “We want to bring that same online optimization into the physical world.”

Making the fitting room experience as productive as possible is key because shoppers who go in there are nearly seven times more likely to make a purchase than those who don’t, according to research by Alert Tech.

Not surprisingly, even e-commerce juggernaut Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) is looking to deploy smart-mirror technology. In January, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office approved a “blended reality systems and methods” patent Amazon had filed for three years ago. Amazon’s patent states that the “blended reality system can be used in retail outlets in dressing rooms or other areas where users try on clothes prior to purchasing them,” according to Patently Apple.

The patent also states that user input can be received through voice commands, and this is where Echo Look, Amazon’s hands-free digital stylist and camera, might come into play. The mirror technologies could be paired with those Amazon acquired in October when it bought Body Labs, a New York startup that creates 3D body models to support B2B software applications.

Smart mirrors are also being deployed on display counters and on the showroom floor. Memomi, a Palo Alto-based company, sells its mirrors to customers such as Neiman Marcus and Sephora. The retailers can use customized devices to help shoppers record makeovers and the makeup products they used, or take videos of various pairs of sunglasses for comparison. Memomi also makes a full-length mirror where shoppers can virtually try on garments.

Salvador Nissi Vilcovsky, Memomi’s founder and CEO, says he first began to conceive of the idea for a more interactive mirror more than a decade ago, but it wasn’t until 2013 when the required technology—high-resolution screens, faster processing, cameras—became available.

“Mirrors are passive,” he says. “Everything that you see is disappearing in the millisecond that you are moving your head.”

But the ubiquity of mirrors makes them an important, if underutilized, tool for retailers, he adds. “There are so many applications you can do with mirrors so we are building a platform that will enable retailers to leverage this information,” he says.

Smart mirrors enable physical stores to collect data similar to what e-commerce sites can do online. For example, are there particular items often brought to fitting rooms or tried out at a counter that are rarely purchased? Is one color of a shirt or dress particularly popular, necessitating more frequent ordering to keep up with demand?

“Some partners are so eager to get their hands on the raw data and crunch it themselves, so we will just give them access to their feed,” says Samuels with Oak Labs. “Others are not that eager to get into the details so we deliver dashboard posts to them.”

Samuels says protecting shoppers’ privacy is a top priority and that personal information is not recorded by the mirrors. Vilcovsky says the shoppers that use the mirror own their own identifying data—say, their face—and must actively consent to allow Memomi continued access.

Both Memomi and Oak Labs employ a software-as-a-service model, plus installation fees. But they didn’t want to disclose further details about what they charge their customers to use the technology. On the investment front, Oak Labs has raised about $4.2 million in venture funding. Memomi is planning to raise a “large” round in the coming months, Vilcovsky says.

As with Memomi, Oak Labs’ current roster of customers includes brands and retailers on the higher-end of the shopping spectrum, such as Rebecca Minkoff, who is also an Oak Labs investor.

But Vilcovsky and Samuels both say that they are planning to deploy their smart mirror technologies more widely—beyond retail, into other industries, and, eventually, into the home.

“We are thinking about applications that will run on your television or on Apple TV,” Vilcovsky says. “We have software that makes the camera and the screen in a combination that looks like a mirror.”