Theoretically, all you need to create a functional fitting room are some walls, and if you’re feeling generous, maybe decent lighting and a mirror.
But the new, high-tech fitting room Ralph Lauren just introduced puts that widespread, barebones model to shame. And not surprisingly, it comes at a time when brick-and-mortar stores are fighting to prove to customers—and retail executives—that they’re not obsolete.
What’s different about the new fitting room at the Polo flagship in New York is that it’s interactive. The single best feature may be that the fitting room lets you browse different products via a touchscreen, allowing you to request any item you want to try on without having to leave the room or track down a sales associate.
The sales associate receives an alert via their iPad. Using radio-frequency identification, the fitting room even determines which products you have in the room, making it simple to request a different size or color.
You can do other things as well, such as toggle between different types of lighting—the options at the Polo store are “Fifth Avenue Daylight,” “East Hampton Sunset,” and “Evening at the Polo Bar”—and if you like you can enter your mobile number and get a summary of your items sent to you for later.
The room was designed and built by Oak Labs, a startup that traces its history back to eBay’s retail-innovation lab. Healey Cypher, the CEO and founder of Oak Labs, ran eBay’s project before the PayPal-related restructuring left it in limbo. Oak Labs is now focused on changing the in-store experience through technology, which would ideally entice consumers to shop at brick-and-mortar stores.
Physical stores have struggled more and more as e-commerce has made it easier to shop from home, leading to a steady drop in foot traffic and sales. Brands have been seeking ways to make their actual shops vital through cutting-edge technology. Tommy Hilfiger, for example, recently debuted a virtual reality headset at its New York store that lets you watch the runway show featuring the clothes that are hanging on the racks nearby.
Some of these efforts can feel gimmicky, but Oak Labs feels an interactive fitting room is genuinely functional. “Every piece of technology should feel effortless,” Cypher said in a press release.
For now, the new fitting room is just being piloted at the one location, but the company hopes to expand to other stores before year’s end.