The Web, camera and texting in fitting room
New dressing room technology from IconNicholson features a three-way mirror that sends live images and text messages via video feeds to friends and family.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Consider this scenario: Mom's at home in Cincinnati while the bride-to-be is nervously trying on her wedding gown at Macy's in Manhattan. Wouldn't it be awesome to connect mother and daughter visually in real time so Mom could give her opinion on the dress instantly, and for free?
A new dressing room technology called the "Magic Mirror" from New York-based digital technology developer IconNicholson claims to do just that.
The company debuted its Magic Mirror concept last week at the National Retail Federation's industry conference in New York amid plenty of buzz.
The high-tech, three-paneled interactive mirror has two cameras located on either side.
Using a cell phone equipped with wireless technology, shoppers point the camera at the mirror and transmit their image to a Web site - yet to be determined - where family and friends can see them model different outfits.
Through the Web site, friends can vote on the outfits as well text-message their opinions to shoppers. Shoppers can text-message back using their cell phones.
Those messages then appear on the interactive mirror. Additionally, the mirror displays recommendations of other styles and accessories that shoppers can try on. By touching those options, shoppers can see close-ups of the clothes, where they're located in the store and their prices.
Surprisingly, company founder and managing director Tom Nicholson said he was taken aback by the crowds of attendees who rushed to see the system firsthand at last week's show.
"I guess if you have a good product, word spreads fast," Nicholson said at the show during an interview with CNNMoney.com.
Indeed, the company said it has already received calls about the Magic Mirror from a "long list of retailers."
Among them is high-end department store chain Bloomingdale's, owned by Federated Department Stores (Charts). In fact, during the interview with Nicholson, he was interrupted by a call on his cell phone from the CEO of Bloomingdale's, who expressed an interest in seeing how the concept worked.
Joseph Olewitz, senior vice president of client relations with IconNicholson, said the company expects to have the Magic Mirror in a major specialty retailer within the next three to six months but declined to name the merchant.
Social networking meets 'social retailing'
According to Olewitz, the interactive mirrors are only one tool in the total concept.
"The real innovation here is social retailing," Olewitz said. "We're bringing together the entire universe of networking concepts through the use of the Internet, the webcam, the webcast to enable shoppers to interact with their friends."
"In the end, the idea is that the customer is 'virtually' supported by their friends and family when they're shopping. In turn, it also gives friends the opportunity to participate in the shopping experience," he said.
The concept was originally developed with the 16- to 24-year-old consumer in mind, or the social-networking-savvy YouTube, MySpace and Facebook generation, who are constantly connected to their friends.
But it's appeal isn't limited just to the youth market.
"For example, I went to buy a sports jacket the other day. I was at the store and was desperate to show my wife the jacket before I bought it," he said. "Now wouldn't it have been great to show her coat virtually while I was at the store?"
It's up to retailers to decide whether they want to put the Magic Mirror in a public or private area of the store, Olewitz said. He did clarify, however, that customers who use it wouldn't actually change their clothes in front of the mirror.
"You would change into the clothes in a separate room and only come in front of the mirror when you're ready to transmit the image," he said.
Also, once the Web site is established, it will be password-protected, he said. "The shopper decides who they want to invite to view their session by either sending them an email, text message or IM and the receivers are the only ones who will get access to the password and see the images," Olewitz said.
How much does the system cost? Olewitz wouldn't disclose a number, saying only that it would depend on their clients' specifications and customer needs.
At least one retail industry expert, while applauding the innovation, said she saw some issues with the system from the consumer's perspective.
"There could be some logistical complications for retailers who want this in their stores," said Candace Corlett, with WSL Strategic Retail, a New York-based retail consultancy.
"Think about the categories where shoppers want their friends' opinions. It's typically for bathing suits, jeans and evening dresses," Corlett said. "The lines in the dressing rooms in those areas of the store are already very long. Something like this could tie up the lines even more and retailers have to make additional space for it."
Moreover, it depends on how accurate the visual is, she said. "When you're talking about the fit of jeans or the sweep of a prom dress, you want the most precise visual possible."
"Having said that, is there an audience for the Magic Mirror? Absolutely," Corlett remarked.