Magic Mirror on the Wall, Will Virtual Fitting Rooms Happen After All?

retail tech

Everything old is new again — or at least can be — when market demand and advancing technology meet. Think about the QR code. Think about installment payments, aka BNPL.

Also, think about mirrors, specifically, mirrors with powers.

No, not the kind from a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. The virtual kind that shows what you would look like in this outfit or that. The tech has been around for ages in different forms, which didn’t stop Amazon from debuting its new digital fitting room concept on Thursday (Jan. 20).

There are no magic mirrors involved, as such, but Amazon’s innovation is close, allowing shoppers with the Amazon app to “send items to a fitting room, where they can use a touchscreen to browse more options, rate items, and request more sizes or styles that are delivered directly to their room within minutes,” the company said in a blog.

See also: Amazon Opening Fashion Store with Digital Fitting Rooms

Amazon didn’t first invent a virtual “smart” mirror — that’s often credited to Google engineer Max Braun — but it was Amazon’s former head of global fulfillment technology, Nadia Shouraboura, who had the tech vision and fashion sense to seek a better way to try on clothes.

Leaving Amazon, she opened what appeared at first glance to be a boutique for trendy jeans in suburban Seattle. Called Hointer, Shouraboura told Wired in a 2013 interview that “Hointer is a technology incubator. We are a software startup. Period.”

So, not a store, but plays one “in real life” (IRL). And that “IRL” component has always loomed large in plans to take the hassle of choosing items and trying them on virtually, getting shoppers into the perfect outfit and to the checkout quicker — and with larger basket sizes.

Wedged into this time period was the Nordstrom and eBay partnership on virtual fitting rooms.

As PYMNTS reported in December 2014, “since Black Friday, Nordstrom has been testing interactive mirrors that become smart screens at two store locations, one in Seattle and one in San Jose, California. There are specifications of the duration of the test program and whether it will expand to other Nordstrom department stores.” Visionary, but not meant to be.

Hointer didn’t last either, but Google was back in the magic mirror business — also briefly— at the 2017 annual NRF convention. In a blog, the NRF said “the trial of a connected in-suite mirror, allowing guests at London’s Sanderson Hotel to search products, video chat with a personal stylist and have items on their doorstep within an hour and a half” was worth a look.

“The Virtual Shopping mirror was installed in an executive loft suite in April. Powered by Google Hangouts, the mirror has two screens — one for a live video link-up with the stylist, and the other an advanced search engine,” NRF said.

First soundings about Amazon, smart mirrors and virtual fittings track back to 2018. That January, Geekwire reported on a “magic mirror” concept that “would be a step up from Amazon’s Echo Look camera, which is currently being marketed on an invitation-only basis as a fashion ‘style assistant’” and adding, “It’s not clear how close the blended-reality mirror is to becoming a reality, or if it’ll actually be manufactured as a physical object.”

That brings us to Thursday (Jan. 20) and Amazon’s plans to open virtual fitting rooms later this year at Los Angeles’ Americana at Brand shopping, dining and entertainment complex.

Called Amazon Style, the tech “is built around personalization. Our machine learning algorithms produce tailored, real-time recommendations for each customer as they shop. As customers browse the store and scan items that catch their eye, we’ll recommend picks just for them. For an even more tailored experience, customers can share information like their style, fit, and other preferences to receive more refined recommendations,” Amazon said.

PYMNTS data finds that Amazon’s share of the apparel market is hovering around 13%, however, as we reported in Q3 2021, “the eCommerce titan accounts for 48% of all clothing and apparel sales made online, up nearly 8% year over year despite competitors’ efforts to bolster their digital operations.”

It’s no hall of mirrors illusion. Amazon is making its move to digitize the in-store apparel shopping experience. Should it blossom, and should Amazon decide to license the tech as it’s done before, millions will soon be asking magic mirrors which top looks good with what skirt.

See also: Amazon, Walmart See Sliding Shares of Apparel as Style Returns to the Forefront