Fitting Rooms Generate Intelligence with RFID

Published: March 14, 2024

River Island is among fashion retailers gaining a trove of data with Crave Retail smart fitting rooms, enabling more seamless shopping 

UK fashion retailer River Island knows the value of its stores’ fitting rooms, where shoppers can do what they can’t do online—see themselves in a sweater or pants, try them with other garments, and walk away with their purchase, knowing it’s exactly what they wanted.

To enhance that experience, River Island is one of the early adopters of a smart fitting room solution from Crave Retail that tracks RFID tagged goods as they come in and out of the fitting room. The solution provides a host of features for the shopper such as recommendations and loyalty benefits.

Crave Retail is a U.S.-based technology company that developed its digital fitting room experience several years ago. Its technology consists of RFID reader panels in fitting rooms, complete with touchscreens that help shoppers learn about the products they try on, see related recommendations and request additional products to try on.

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How Crave Retail Fitting Rooms Work

Shoppers enter the fitting room with their selected garments, each of which has an RFID tag encoded with a unique ID. Once inside, shoppers hang the garments on a rod attached to the panel. The garments’ tags are detected by the reader, and the screen comes alive, displaying what the customer has brought in, and providing recommendations of similar products.

If a shopper finds they need a larger or smaller size, they can use the touchscreen to request alternative garments or accessories.

Sales associates, with handheld devices running the Crave Retail app, then receive a message indicating what is being requested, from which fitting room. They confirm the request and find the needed products to take to the shopper.

If garments remain in the fitting room after the shopper leaves, the Crave Retail app alerts the employees and they can then fetch those items to return to store displays.

Enhancing Brick and Mortar Shopping

For retailers such as River Island, it’s intended to not only enhance brick-and-mortar shopping, but enable company management collect and understand data about what is being tried on, and then purchased or left behind. That helps stores better manage their merchandise and even predict shrinkage.

While River Island first deployed the Crave Retail fitting rooms two years ago, it has a 10 year history with RFID technology. It began tagging the apparel it makes and sells for inventory management, and then expanded to features far beyond it that, centered around customer experience and analytics.

Jon Wright, River Island’s head of operational risk and RFID, has two responsibilities: security and adoption of RFID technology. The two efforts coalesce with the use of passive UHF RFID systems for frictionless self-checkout, RFID enabled fitting rooms and intelligence based on inventory status.
Inventory Management

RFID data is being captured in all 237 River Island stores and its franchise shops in the Middle East. All goods are tagged at the point of manufacture. For inventory management, tags are read weekly.

“We know what product is on the shop floor and what product is available in the stockroom, so we can then check size gaps, and are able to fulfill those size gaps,” Wright said.

That means if a size 10 blue sweater is missing from the store shelf, its absence can be identified and quickly replenished.

River Island has moved beyond inventory tracking as well, piloting Zebra RFID readers at the front of the store to enable some RFID based self-checkout. And two years ago, the Crave Retail fitting rooms, (with panels built directly into the walls, leveraging Zebra RFID readers) went live at the stores.

Frictionless Shopping

With the adoption of RFID a decade ago, “our primary objective was having amazing stock accuracy,” Wright said. But the store now expects to be able “to provide RFID as an enabler to seamless and frictionless shopping.”

For many retailers, Wright said, fitting rooms are regarded as an evil necessity that typically requires extra staffing and can be an opportunity for theft.

But they provide benefits that online shopping does not, including preventing many returns because the shopper knows they have the right fit when they make their purchase. In fact, about 30 to 35 percent of River Island’s total store sales come from the fitting room.

With Crave Retail, River Island finds, the physical fitting rooms can benefit from some digital features associated more with online shopping—offering recommendations based on shoppers’ interests for instance.

Outfit Builder

The next RFID-based evolution for River Island is to bring more recommendations to a shopper in the form of an “outfit builder.” This, Wright said, can include AI-based data related to what garments are often selected with other specific items, and then the system, built by Crave Retail, begins offering options to the shopper while they’re in the fitting room.

“That is really going to be a game changer,” Wright predicted, based on the increase in sales that River Island can anticipate with the recommended items in the Outfit Builder.

Additionally, the data provides valuable analytics for the store, said Wright. For instance, with AI, the system can identify trends such as shrinkage as a result of specific items being brought into the fitting room.

“If we know that losses are driving high from the fitting room, we have the data to prove it including when it’s happening and what type of product. Then we can target that,” he said.

Global Adoptions of Fitting Room Intelligence

Crave Retail’s smart fitting room is in place at other retailers such as Victoria’s Secret and Under Armour. The technology resulted from the observations of one of the founders, Matthew Cyr, who worked in retail and noted that stores had limited management of fitting room activities.

The company designed and developed the panels with specific engineering to reduce complexity and costs by ensuring tags are read only in a specific fitting room, and other tags in neighboring fitting rooms are filtered out.

According to Cyr, the company’s composable commerce design architecture makes it easy for retailers to integrate existing offline and online solutions into Crave’s platform, such as a store’s point of sale or inventory management software.

What the company now offers, he said, is “an in-store experience platform that gives shoppers an elevated experience for finding product information, product availability, outfit recommendations and on demand service from associates.”

Price Checking Systems

Crave Retail also offers assisted seller kiosks that can replace price checking systems, with a 22-inch interactive screen and RFID tag reader.  It automatically detects the product and displays data about it and makes recommendations. The system works with barcode scanning as well.

Crave Retail has certified integration partners who deploy the solutions in different parts of the world.

There are about 10 million fitting rooms globally, Cyr estimated, and many have become antiquated as the world becomes more connected.

“There’s just no chance that in the next five to 10 years those fitting rooms are going to just be these dull empty spaces with no access to service,” he said.

Beyond Customer Interaction

For Wright at River Island, Crave Retail is more than a customer interaction tool.

“That’s the front face of it—but it really is a data tool to understand how your store is is working, you can do upselling and cross selling and increase your sales but it’s so much bigger than that,” he said. “But it’s so much bigger than that.”

The analytics that result from the system data offer benefits for security as well, adding, “we understand how losses happen, how much goes out through the front door but we also now understand when it was last seen in the fitting room.”

Key Takeaways:
  • River Island is providing a more seamless shopping experience with its smart fitting room technology that leverages RFID tag reads to identify the apparel shoppers are trying on.
  • The technology not only enables River Island to make suggestion and better server shoppers, but also to view trends for specific products and even head off shrink risks.