TechWeekEurope Tests Tesco’s Magic Mirrors: Gallery

Tesco has been making a serious effort to stay relevant in the digital age. In 2011, UK’s leading grocery retailer introduced free Wi-Fi across its ‘Extra’ stores, and last year it launched the very first “interactive store” at Gatwick airport. Tesco Direct, the online service, has had a facelift in 2012, and reports healthy growth.

At the moment, three Tesco stores are testing five different pieces of modern technology, to see which shows more potential for wider roll-out. So TechWeekEurope went to take a look at the ‘magic mirrors’, information terminals and digital signage in use at its emporium in Woolwich.

Some eight months ago we were invited to a similar trial at John Lewis. It involved the same virtual mirror concept, but was limited to women’s clothing only. That that didn’t stop the all-male crew of technology enthusiasts. The trial at Tesco is aimed at children. Well, that didn’t stop us either.

A child at heart

Tesco’s F&F clothing range features over 7000 items, but is often overlooked by shoppers looking for something more exciting. Meanwhile, a recent survey by Cisco has found that eight out of ten UK consumers use digital sources to help them decide what to buy, and 71 percent want to access digital content in-store.

According to Tesco’s head of online development operations Situl Thrakrar, what a modern shopper needs is something “to aid the experience” in the store. What would serve this purpose better than some technological treats? So the company has attempted to add online features to its in-store displays, specifically those with F&F clothing.

Chief among the wonders is the ‘magic mirror’ – a giant screen with a built-in camera which captures the customer’s body dimensions and position. The ‘mirror’ then superimposes clothing over the customer’s on-screen image. The whole process is controlled by hand gestures, which are interpreted by a device that strongly resembles XBox Kinect. Trying on virtual clothes is more fun than it sounds, and it’s little wonder Tesco has decided to adapt the system for the kids.

Tesco's Magic Mirrors

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Tesco digial terminal

The Woolwich store mirror was created by C In Store and it is fully supported by Cisco infrastructure. It is smaller than the one at John Lewis (which makes sense, since it’s for the little ones), and the interface has been redesigned to feature fairies and Buzz Lightyear. The new magic mirror is full of surprises. On selecting a knight’s fancy dress costume, a red dragon swoops across the screen, and why not bounce a virtual football in a virtual football shirt? Seriously, the kids will love it.

The Woolwich store also features sleek touchscreen cabinets made by Retec Interface, specialists in “guided selling and self service systems”. Through  these, customers can browse the stock (including Tesco Direct offers), request an item in different size, or reserve something for pick-up.

Finally, there’s the Digital Signage, that can display different offers based on the season or the time of day. Imagine a world where in-store advertising is tailored to the weather, with useful messages like: “It’s snowing outside. Buy our woollen hats!”

These solutions are unlikely to help Tesco sell more products by themselves, but that’s not the aim here. Instead, the company hopes for the “halo” effect – that the new technology will increase customer engagement, drive footfall, and ultimately result in higher revenue. “We are the early adopters,” said Thrakrar. So far, this approach seems to be working.

What we didn’t see on Tuesday were the ‘digital mannequins’ – seven-foot projections that engage the customer – and something called ‘inspire screens’, since both are tested in other stores.

There is no guarantee the technology will improve profits. Tesco has already abandoned three other projects because they didn’t “fit” the company. The remaining five have been set for an initial run of six months. Tesco will be looking at its revenues to see whether tech really is helping attract more customers.

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Max Smolaks

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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