Virtual changing rooms hit the high street: Debenhams first to trial new technology

[From The Daily Mail, where the story includes additional images]

Virtual changing rooms hit the high street: Debenhams first to trial new technology

By Sadie Whitelocks
Last updated on 1st November 2011

If clammy changing rooms clogged with rails of clothing and queues of belligerent shoppers drive you mad, the virtual changing room might be the answer.

Using your smartphone, iPad or webcam you can try on potential purchases at your leisure, without getting undressed or battling through crowded shops.

Known as augmented reality (AR) this cutting-edge technology superimposes outfits over your image, bringing together real and virtual worlds.

Now in a bid to attract time-conscious consumers, the high street is busy investing in versions of  the software.

Debenhams has been the first UK chain to trial the new technology, claiming that it is reminiscent of scenes from the ‘sci-fi movie the Minority Report’.

Over a three-day period the department store launched an Apple Application enabling shoppers to view ten party dresses on iPads and iPhones, virtually try them on and order them on the spot.

Simon Forster, Director said: ‘This really is the future of shopping. It brings the hassle-free element of online, with the experience of shopping in store.

‘It is incredible what the developments in technology mean we can now do-including trying on a dress without even having to remove an item of clothing.’

The cost of Debenhams’ technology drive has not been revealed although a spokesperson said the three-day trial was ‘a lot more cost effective than setting up a physical pop up store’.

This rise of the virtual changing room is set to change the face of online shopping as consumers almost literally can try before they buy.

A survey by online retailer community IMRG earlier this year revealed that up to 40 per cent of clothing purchased online is returned to the retailer because of dissatisfaction or because the items did not fit properly.

Not only that, lonesome shoppers can also get a second opinion by uploading pictures of themselves wearing the virtual outfits to social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter, prompting feedback.

American retailer Macy’s launched virtual sizing technology in the U.S. last month after partnering with fit personalization software provider True Fit.

This software allows shoppers to see how clothes and shoes on the website, mobile site and in-store will fit them without having to physically try them on.

John Lewis is also set to unveil a ‘magic mirror’ across the UK following a trial in its new Exeter store next year.

The retailer has been working in collaboration with technology firm Cisco on the equipment
which consists of a sophisticated computer screen which acts as a ‘mirror’ with built-in sensors and cameras.

When shoppers stand in front of the machine, it scans their body to determine their exact dimensions for sizing garments.

The customer can then bring up a range of menus on the screen and select from thousands of items in the chain’s fashion ranges.

Once selected, the clothing is superimposed on top of the reflection. The machine is even capable of projecting several items over a shopper at the same time, to show how a complete outfit might look.

John Lewis’s commercial director Andrea O’Donnell admits that the concept is not new, but until now no one had been able to bring it to life.

‘The technology has simply not been there,’ she said.

Meanwhile a spokesperson for Debenhams said that the initial trail of the virtual store has been a success and it ‘could well be something that becomes mainstream in the future’ adding that hundreds of customers provided ‘very positive feedback’.

It will now be the consumer who decides the future of the high street, but online shopping is becoming increasingly popular – according to the Office for National Statistics nearly £1 in every £10 is spent on goods bought online – and the virtual changing room is another tool set to ease the process.


Virtual Cartier tiara
Passers-by were given the chance to try on the Cartier Halo tiara Kate Middleton borrowed from the Queen, for the Royal Wedding as Garrard unveiled the first ever virtual accessory that moves with the wearer. The luxury Bond St jeweller created a ‘magical’ mirror, where passers-by could stand in front of the glass and see themselves wearing a £100,000 tiara.
The site invites users to upload shoulder, bust, waist and hip measurements and then creates an avatar to shows what the clothes will look like on. The feature is still in early development – its height measurement is still missing which has a big effect on what shape you are. For now the site seems to rely on whether your waist is smaller than your hips and chest to define whether you are a pear, hourglass or rectangle shape.

AR Door
A key developer of augmented reality, an AR Door prototype was road-tested in Moscow in May, allowing shoppers to ‘try on’ clothes without getting undressed. Russian shoppers in a branch of high street chain Top Shop were the first to road test the technology when a prototype model was unleashed at the city’s European shopping centre. The company used game-playing hardware to create the invention with an Xbox 360 console, complete with its Kinect motion-sensor technology, hooked up to a large video screen which resembles a full-length mirror. The Kinect camera is able to monitor the customer’s movements and tell when they turn around in order to show them the back of the garment too.

Shiseido’s magic make-up mirror
The first of its kind in Europe, the ‘magic mirror’ promises to give you a full make-over in seconds, letting you test hundreds of different products in minutes, with no need for make-up remover afterwards. Created by Japanese beauty brand Shiseido, the simulator allows users to virtually apply make-up to eyes, lips and cheeks with cameras detecting where your eyes, nose and mouth are. Using the touch-sensitive screen, you can choose from more than 50 different eye colours, around the same number of lip colours, and 12 blushers, bronzers and cheek tints.

The Tweet Mirror
The ‘Tweet Mirror’ uses a high-definition camera to take images of shoppers trying on outfits. They can then study the photos themselves or tweet or post on Facebook for friends to offer a second opinion. The hi-tech device was unveiled this spring in Westfield shopping centre in west London. Situated outside the changing rooms at the mall in Shepherd’s Bush, the Tweet Mirror lets customers see images of themselves from different angles before deciding which snaps to send to friends.


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