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The Dirty Truth About Magic Mirrors

Brick and mortar retail stores are looking for ways to incorporate technology in ways that improve customer experience and create measurable ROI. Especially appealing are technologies that lend themselves to a more omnichannel experience. Web makes retail easier! Metrics, analytics, insights galore.

  • What is the best way to do this?
  • Where does it make sense to connect the online to the in-store experience?
  • How can you readily incorporate the Internet of Things into your physical stores?

Theoretically, the “Magic Mirror” should be one answer to these questions.

There are a few different versions of these magic-machines, but they all rely on a complex recommendation engine that draw from catalog and in-store inventory, as well as allow in-store shoppers to save items to their in-store shopping cart.

Despite the bells and whistles, Magic Mirrors remain far from ubiquitous – or even common. Why hasn’t this “sexy” technology been more widely adopted?

And no- it’s not just because of the finger prints…

I want that

Brand wide rollout status: ASAP

The Promise vs The Reality

To understand why Magic Mirrors may not be ramping up to become “the next big thing” in retail, we have to take a look at the initial promises made for these technologies. Initially, Magic Mirrors were designed as a way to let shoppers see themselves in different outfits without actually having to try on the outfits.

Ideally, a Magic Mirror would allow a shopper to look for different colors, sizes, styles, and accessories – all electronically. A customer who likes an outfit, but not the exact color or fit, could hit a button or two to change the color and size. Then they could touch another button to request the new physical products from an associate.

In 2014, Rebecca Minkoff’s Magic Mirror technology was introduced, garnering coverage from publications such as Fortune and Retail Innovation. In 2015, when Oak Labs brought Magic Mirrors to Ralph Lauren, Venture Beat hailed the technology as “the fitting room of the future.”

The truth is, Magic Mirrors seem destined to remain a luxury item in the retail industry, at least for the foreseeable future. Rebecca Minkoff and Ralph Lauren still have not expanded the use of “the fitting room of the future” beyond a handful of installations at flagship stores. There is no evidence that this technology could be beneficial or even viable in most parts of the brick and mortar retail industry.

Magic Mirrors are Pricey

Despite everything we discussed above, price might be the single biggest factor in the slow market adoption of Magic Mirror technology. Sure, Magic Mirrors are shiny, new, and intriguing, but above all they are expensive. The price has proved prohibitive for wide scale adoption.

With typical options starting at around $10,000.00 per fitting room, this is something that equates to a fitting room Ferrari. Not to mention the backend development required to make sure the brands product catalog, inventory availability, in-store mobile strategy, online ordering API, and operational flows are all wired tight enough to plug and play with the “Magic Mirror” SDK.

This is especially true since there are already other fitting room technologies available that are affordable, practical, and actionable and have been shown to deliver an ROI… at scale.

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Lack of Human Interaction

One of the drawbacks of Magic Mirror technology is the lack of human interaction. Of course, consumers today have spent so much time online that they can become used to shopping in solitude.

interactions-key-for-customersHowever, sometimes the customer wants human interaction – particularly if they are taking the time and effort to visit a brick-and-mortar retail store. Getting feedback and suggestions from associates is, for many people, a positive part of the shopping experience. So is pulling a bunch of outfits from the racks and heading to the fitting room to see how they all look.

Your bottom line can enjoy benefits from human interaction, as well. When customers are interacting with your associates, they are engaging with your brand ambassadors. These interactions, if positive, can be significant drivers of customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Magic Mirrors are a shiny, new, and fun technology, but they take away some of this valuable human interaction. An interaction with a Magic Mirror is more like the type of experience your customers would get online, and if we carry this to its logical extreme, we might ask, why should shoppers even bother coming to your store?

Inaccurate Inventory Management Creates Problems

Another pitfall of Magic Mirrors is that, for the technology to work, you need a very good inventory management system. To avoid customer frustration, it is vital that your Magic Mirror system accurately reflects the inventory that is available in your store. Imagine a customer using the mirror to pick out the perfect garment in a specific color or size, only to learn that the item in question is out of stock.

When associates are the ones giving the recommendations, they have a good idea of what’s in the store and what is out of stock. Or they’ll say something like, “I’m not sure we have any left in your size, but I think you’d look great in navy.”

There is also a point to be made about try-on in store for home delivery. While this is a great flow, it misses some of the key points available to a brick and mortar retailer- those Associates that know everything about your floor set and make all the difference in building the sale in the moment.

Don’t make your fitting rooms into the worlds most expensive internet shopping cafe.

Magic Mirror Staffing Challenges

Consider this scenario: A fitting room customer is trying on a pair of black pants. The Magic Mirror recommends a complementary shirt in blue, and she presses a button on the screen to request it. This request goes out to a floor associate who’s currently talking to another customer. The associate breaks away and finds the shirt, but on the way to the fitting room gets another Magic Mirror notification from the same shopper who has decided she’d also like to try the shirt on in red, in the next size smaller.

For the average medium-footprint retail establishment – the kind of store with, say, eight fitting rooms and one or two associates responsible for floor service, shipment processing, floor recovery cash-wrap, back office tasks, and more – instantly responding to Magic Mirror requests can be challenging, to say the least.

The customer can spend a lot of time alone in the fitting room, sorting through outfits on the Magic Mirror, but your staff still needs to be ready to respond swiftly when the customer is ready and asks for assistance.

As demonstrated in the scenario above, you also risk sacrificing face-to-face customer interactions to deliver service to Magic Mirror customers in the fitting rooms.

The volume of interaction that can happen with a customer essentially saying “I want to try them all!” has a very real impact on store tasking.

Speed of Service is All-Important

One of the reasons that Magic Mirrors post a logistical hurdle is the level of speed that customers can come to expect from associates. With Magic Mirrors, the customer can head to the fitting room before having any face-to-face interaction with the associate. Therefore, this customer has not yet developed confidence that an individual is responding to them or providing the service they need.

The result of this situation is something we like to call fitting room time dilation. It may take just a few minutes for your associate to respond to a Magic Mirror request, find the garments the customer requested, and deliver them to the fitting room. For your undressed customer in the fitting room, the wait for service seems longer.

[Tweet “Time dilation: For your undressed customer in the fitting room, the wait for service seems longer”]

(In contrast, Alert Tech’s fitting room call button customers find that their associates can respond verbally within 30 seconds of a request. Of course, it takes more than 30 seconds to get the requested items to the fitting room, but since the associates have already communicated and connected with the customers, the service seems faster and more attentive. Shoppers perceive this as superior customer service and are more likely to accept associate feedback or be upsold as a result.)


Magic Mirrors are an intriguing technology, and perhaps someday they will have a wider reaching presence in the retail world. For now, though, Magic Mirrors serve mostly to make brick-and-mortar retail shopping feel more like online shopping. And hey, you already have an eCommerce site!

What new technologies actually work for retail stores? Click the image below to learn how retail analytics technologies can benefit your customer experience AND your bottom line.


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