Revealing its naked ambition to motor into the digital fast lane, Swedish fast-fashion supergroup H&M has opened both barrels on the smart mirror phenomenon by launching a voice activated mirror in its Times Square, New York flagship. Using dulcet-toned conversation-led tech – no touch-screens, no buttons, no typing – it encompasses selfies, styling recommendations and also a relatively smooth route to e-commerce. Crucially, it’s also underscored by a smart new attitude to user experience (UX) design, which views the mirror as a space to kick-start relations, not a personal confidante making private connections.
Created in tandem with Microsoft and two Stockholm-based agencies Ombori – a specialist in UX Design and digital signage experts Visual Art, the mirror is quietly ‘sleeping’ until facial detection technology (strictly speaking not facial recognition tech – the concept errs on the side of anonymity) senses someone has been looking at it for long enough to be reasonably engaged and then awakens the fixture. Its feminine-sounding superintendent invites people to take a selfie, giving them a countdown to prepare, which then appears on screen in the form of several magazine covers. A canny bit of self-promotion deftly massaging the inherent narcissism on which so much of social media is built, our faceless hostess even declares “great cover” when the image pops up, presumably to everyone. Users can download the image by scanning an on-screen QR code with their smartphone cameras.
Outstripping predictions based on consumers previous reticence to get on board with QR codes due to the hassle of having to download a code reader (a diminished obstacle since Apple introduced readers into the iPhone in September 2017) so far 86% of people that have taken a selfie have also downloaded it. Moreover, 10% of those who downloaded a selfie signed up for the newsletter, giving H&M a fresh connection to 8% of all those that dabbled with the mirror’s charms.
The mistress of the mirror also asks onlookers if they’d like fashion inspiration – effectively a menu of categories linked directly to whatever content and styles are showing on H&M’s website at the time. Anything of interest can be purchased directly by scanning another QR code.
Andreas Hassellöf, founder and CEO of Ombori reveals that the concept was borne from a desire to side-step too-often clunky visual technologies that deliver disappointment rather than delight, de-valuing the entire store experience. Instead, their mission was to chase the promise of making a powerful first connection: “In physical spaces you have a lot of people, so the focus is on triggering a relationship. The formula is based on creating surprise, satisfaction of experience and then making a conversion. Big screens are a great way for grabbing attention, making them ideal catalysts for a relationship but it’s far more likely that the personal dialogue will stay connected to personal devices.”
Far more than simply cashing-in on the buzz surrounding voice-controlled services (notably H&M has also just announced it will launch a Google Assistant app providing users with interiors styling advice via phones, computers or its smart speaker Google Home) Hassellöf reveals that the use of speech rather than touch panels was also deployed to circumvent the fact that, “people are afraid of making mistakes, especially in public”.
The suggestion is that spoken communication is deemed less final, more manageable and that the instructions are often more cleanly conveyed. He describes how an in-progress concept for another fashion brand involving the wow-factor of using just a flick of a mobile phone to shunt content on a digital screen sideways stalled because, “we weren’t looking at patterns that people recognise. It’s the same with language; there needs to be no confusion about what the next step the user has to take is”.
While the concept isn’t truly conversational as yet – the chat so far revolves around a menu of predetermined choices – it lays the foundations for a more personalized future dialogues. It also spotlights a vision of store design in which ambient tech – invisible technology that allows us to interact with our surroundings – will underpin a more edifying and enjoyable experience. It’s a world already ventured into in brief by Amazon, which partnered with US luxury fashion brand Calvin Klein last year on a Holiday season pop-up in New York that featured Amazon’s smart Echo speakers in fitting rooms. The tech allowed shoppers to ask questions about product, control lighting and play music, as if talking to a friend.
According to Hassellöf, successful future UX design will be anchored in creating systems that truly justify the title omni-commerce, where it will be possible to create a retail experience that’s effectively a rolling journey of communications using different tools – laptops, phones, TV screens, digital walls, talking into thin air – for different contexts. Sometimes public, sometimes private, the aim is to link those strands together, “Desktop computers will be primarily for creating content, but the other tools are likely to remain. It’s how the connections are made that counts”.