Polo Ralph Lauren Store Gets Smart Fitting Rooms

By Claire Swedberg

The interactive fitting-room technology, provided by Oak Labs, is part of Ralph Lauren's adoption of RFID for customer-facing applications and inventory tracking.

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Ralph Lauren Corp. opened eight RFID-enabled interactive fitting rooms this week at its Polo Ralph Lauren flagship store located on New York City’s Fifth Avenue. The company plans to install such fitting rooms in additional stores as well, following an evaluation of their effectiveness at the New York location.

The interactive technology, provided by startup Oak Labs, consists of a smart mirror with a touchscreen and a built-in RFID reader to identify the RFID tag of every garment brought into a fitting room.

When a customer takes a garment into a Polo Ralph Lauren fitting room, the RFID antenna and reader installed behind the mirror identify that item.

“We’re testing it first at 711 [Fifth Avenue] to get feedback and make adjustments, and figure out how best to incorporate it into a larger part of the Polo experience,” says a Ralph Lauren spokesperson who has asked to remain unnamed. “As we work to refine it, it will start rolling out to Polo concept stores.”

The three-story store includes a full-range of Polo products, as well as a coffee shop and The Polo Bar, Ralph Lauren’s first restaurant in New York. According to a New York Post article, the store is aimed at hip, young customers.

The smart mirror is part of that appeal for a young audience expecting a memorable experience. The Oak Fitting Rooms system consists of four fitting rooms in the women’s department and four in the men’s department. All products have EPC Gen 2 passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) tags attached to their sale-price labels, and the unique ID number encoded to the tag links to the stock-keeping unit (SKU)-based information about that particular product.

When a customer takes a garment into one of the fitting rooms, the RFID antenna and reader installed behind the mirror capture the ID number of that clothing item’s tag. Software then displays a prompt for the shopper to select a lighting theme. Because the software identifies the ID of each tag linked to the product’s SKU, the lighting options are customized to fit each brand’s aesthetic, such as “Fifth Avenue Daylight,” “East Hampton Sunset” and “Village Candlelit Dinner.”

The mirror offers six language options: English, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Mandarin and Japanese. If a user would like to try another garment or accessory that is recommended on the smart mirror display, he or she can select the appropriate prompt and the software will forward that request to a sales associate equipped with an Apple iPad running Lab Oaks’ app. The app also displays the area of the store in which that specific item can be found.

The sales associate responds by sending a message back to the customer’s smart mirror, and then fetches the requested item. That same employee also has the capability of completing a sales transaction with the customer using her or his iPad—a function that the store already offers, explains Healey Cypher, one of Oak Labs’ co-founders. The shopper can use the smart mirror to indicate a desire to make a purchase, and an associate will then appear to ring up that order while the customer is still changing.

Oak Labs’ Healey Cypher

The Fifth Avenue store opened in September 2014, but the company had already been attaching passive UHF RFID tags to Polo Ralph Lauren products, enabling it to use RFID to perform inventory counts and manage its supply chain. When the firm constructed the store last year, it was already preparing for further RFID technology use. Ethernet connections for the readers were installed in each fitting room, with RF shielding on every wall so that an RFID transmission in one fitting room would not spill beyond its walls into another.

Oak Labs was founded approximately six months ago, Cypher says, to provide RFID-enabled smart fitting room technology to retailers. He previously served as eBay‘s enterprise group head of retail innovation, and last year led the deployment of touchscreen RFID-enabled smart mirrors in fitting rooms for New York clothing store Rebecca Minkoff (see Rebecca Minkoff Store Uses RFID to Provide an Immersive Experience).

Cypher says he and his three fellow co-founders began researching and developing the smart mirror now in use at the Polo Ralph Lauren store, based on his early experience at eBay. He says he traveled to Germany to meet with Avery Dennison at its Avery Design and Innovation Center, in Sprockhövel, where he was impressed with the variety of ways in which radio frequency identification can now be implemented based on new tag form factors, as well as the interest in RFID he observed from visiting retailers. “What I saw was that this [technology] is more than just a supply chain thing,” he states.

That enthusiasm from retailers, Cypher says, was part of what convinced him that the time was right for Oak Labs’ smart-mirror product. “I think, if we had done this one or two years ago, we would have failed [to see enough demand from retailers],” Cypher says, whereas now, he adds, current interest expressed by stores and consumers is such that the company’s products will be well received.

For now, Cypher indicates, his company’s sole focus is centered on providing products to Ralph Lauren. His firm has designed the smart fitting room to be aesthetically pleasing and useful for consumers, he says, noting that the touchscreen also works as a standard mirror, whether or not RFID is present. “We don’t believe in building technology simply for the sake of technology,” he states.

According to Cypher, once a customer brings a garment into the fitting room, the conversion rate to a purchase is high. At that point, the fitting room technology can serve as a way not only to make that sale more likely, but also to prompt further purchases by offering items that can accompany that product. Just as online merchants like Amazon are constantly upgrading their systems to make the purchase of goods faster and easier for customers, he says, the smart mirror technology and mobile point-of-sale functionality at the Polo Ralph Lauren store promises to do the same at the physical store.

“Anecdotally,” Cypher says, “we find that the associates and consumers love it.”

Oak Labs is still testing RFID readers and antennas from several companies, Cypher reports. As such, he declines to name the RFID hardware providers for the mirrors now in use at the flagship store.

According to Cypher, the system is able to do more than just make shopping more efficient for customers. It also offers analytical data that Ralph Lauren can use to better understand consumer behavior and stock its stores accordingly. “Traditionally, the fitting room was a black box,” he says, but the smart mirror collects such information as which items are frequently brought into the room together, what shopping interests are prevalent at certain times or on given days, and which items are popular with customers of a specific language preference.

“We have been working with Ralph Lauren for about four months,” Cypher reports. “They are an amazing brand,” he says, citing reasons including the fact that the retailer had previously adopted RFID tags for inventory tracking, and had already installed Ethernet connections and RF shielding in fitting rooms.