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Friday, March 27th, 2015


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The Future of Shopping

It’s happened to all of us. We’re trying on clothes in the dressing room and we want to try on another size. You have to put your clothes back on and go out and look for it.

Not for long.

Someday soon you will be able to type what you need: color, size and style, into a hand held device which will notify a sales assistant who will be able to find it for you and bring it to you.

Certain stores, like the Gap, are already installing “call” buttons. Stores are trying to make dressing rooms more pleasant, making them larger, serving food and drinks, and placing couches, chairs and more in the room. While comfort in the dressing room is important, the next step is completely interactive dressing room.

Interactive dressing rooms can suggest complimentary products—matching accessories, shoes, or even shirts and pants. These dressing rooms can also convey useful information; including, price, materials and care instruction.

Mirror, mirror on the wall
What we really need is a mirror who tells the truth. A mirror that cannot lie and say you look good when you don’t. What we’re going to get are responsive mirrors. These mirrors will be able to show you how an article of clothing or an outfit looks, from every angle. They will also record everything you try on. If you can’t remember how the first thing you tried on looked, a responsive mirror will allow you to simultaneously see everything that you have tried on. All that’s missing is the mirror to tell you honestly which thing actually looks good.

These mirrors aren’t far in the future; some high-end retail stores are already implementing them.

If you need a friend to offer her opinion before you buy you might appreciate being able to send an image of you trying on clothes from the dressing room to your friends phone or email. Shoppers can connect live with friends and family members and get instant feedback, just like they were in the room with you.

Personalized shopping
Online shopping is easy and you can often find better deals. However, it is often nothing more than a guessing game. You see something you like, you choose the size that you most often wear, enter your payment information and cross your fingers. Now, with MyShape.com, that’s already changing. MyShape.com is a personalized shopping site. You enter your exact measurements, find the clothing that you like, and the site uses your measurements to find the piece of clothing that will fit you best. You can also set up a list of things that you want and your husband or boyfriend can easily pick out a gift—with no fear of buying the wrong size.

Automatic checkout
Years ago I walked into a discount store somewhere in the state of California. It took me a few moments to realize that there was something very different about this store: there was almost nobody working there. I saw a total of two employees wandering the aisles.   The checkout lines were all automated, and people simply walked through, scanning their groceries and bagging them, then heading straight out the door. It looked like a shoplifter’s paradise. It also looked extremely cold. It was quiet; the fluorescent lights seemed to bounce off of the floor and walls without people and talking to buffer them. Somehow, it felt wrong. I guess I wasn’t the only one to think so as I haven’t seem completely automaton stores everywhere and part of me hopes I never do. If we let computers do everything we could, in a sense, make ourselves obsolete.

However, I don’t think that completely automatic checkouts are that far away. We will be able to roll an entire grocery car through sensors which will quickly add everything up and deduct the amount from a card (or by that point a chip in our necks). What if we have coupons? Will the scanner read those too? What if it makes a mistake? Where will we complain? How will we know? Finally, is this even a good idea? Teenagers are facing record-high unemployment rates, they are also often employed in retail jobs. Will this hurt them even more?  Most likely, we won’t have to wait too long to find the answers to these questions.

Customize everything
We can already customize an assortment of products on our computers. You can design your own Nike’s, put your initials on M&M’s and even design your own Kleenex boxes (if you simply must have your tissue box match your living room). Shopping is moving toward more user-generated or bespoke products. It won’t be a question of searching high and low to find the perfect pair of sneakers; we can now simply log in and create our own. Better yet, they aren’t going to cost and arm and a leg. Most of us think of Keds as the most basic of sneakers, now, we can customize our Keds to represent our personalities. You can even upload your own image. If you want to walk all over your ex-boyfriend just upload his photo to your shoe and now you literally can. What makes these customizable Keds different than other high-end customer created products? They only cost $60.

In today’s world of big box stores that offer just about everything for a low price, people are searching for ways to save money and stand out. Customization of products is just one new way stores are giving customers exactly what they want. As technology makes it easier and cheaper for companies to produce customized products the prices are coming down. Soon you’ll be able to customize everything without paying premium prices for the privilege.

It won’t just be clothing and Kleenex that will be customized, furniture, alarm clocks and more will be able to be customized and created by the user. Thingiverse.com is a site that allows designers to upload their blueprints, designs and ideas so that anyone can modify, adapt them or use them. It hasn’t taken off yet but, again, as technology improves the amount of customized items consumers will be able to create will be limitless.

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