Mirror, mirror on the wall, will you leave me any shoppers at all?

This magic mirror could be a great sales tool. More likely, though, it will just siphon sales to an online rival.

haier magic mirror

The interplay between store associates and in-store technology has always been a delicate balancing act. When the tech helps the associate be an all-knowing partner to the shopper, it's a great thing. But when the tech is deployed so that the associate seems to just get in the way, it can ultimately undermine the in-store experience. Enter the HiMirror.

Retailers have toyed with magic mirrors before — it seems to be the retail tech idea that never dies, despite the fact that it rarely works long term — but this mirror goes much further.

Consider this from a recent Fast Company piece: "The home mirror I tried even had an accompanying Bluetooth-enabled scale that keeps track of your weight fluctuations and suggests exercise routines as needed. I’m into me, but not enough to see magnified, lighted photos of my flaws twice a day. A camera that sits on top of it closes in on your face and analyzes your skin’s wrinkles, blemishes, dark spots, and even clogged pores. Then, after several bright flashes, it switches from mirror to screen mode to offer a daily and weekly summary — via on-screen data chart — of how you’re aging and what you can do to battle the ravages of time. For example, it even figures in the weather and might tell you to wear SPF 50 on a sunny day."

The app comments on how it thinks a customer is aging? Looks at her face and "suggests exercise routines as needed"? Gee, how could that possibly go wrong?

Here's where it gets tricky. Although this system is being sold for consumers to use at home, it's also being sold to retailers to use in-store. For example, New York City-based Bergdorf Goodman, a subsidiary of Dallas-based Neiman-Marcus, has been "investing in the technology," the story noted.

It's not clear how the technology will be used. Will associates use it as a tool to help shoppers or will it be more of a self-help tool on the counter? Both are problematic.

If shoppers are asked to use it as a do-it-yourself service, it undercuts the value of the store associate. Why wouldn't the shoppers buy the units themselves? Or use some similar service online? This has all the makings of an effective mobile app, leveraging the sophisticated cameras and analytics in many of today's phones.

In effect, telling shoppers to "stop bothering me, kid, and go scan yourself" is hardly the key to a better in-store experience.

Even worse, that do-it-yourself approach offers no buffer between the system's more indelicate implied suggestions of "Wow, you look even older than you did yesterday. Get to that bucket list now!" or "Having scanned your face, I think you did need to make time for some serious cardio."

The better route is allowing the system to scan shoppers under the watchful eye of a trained store associate and to have the system privately share its findings with the store associate, who can share select findings with the shopper as diplomatically as possible. And therein lies the real problem with this system.

That problem is that this tool only helps if it's working with a well-trained, diplomatic sales professional. That's the core of a profitable in-store strategy. But far too many retail executives today want to deal with thin margins by cheapening the process. Training is expensive, and hiring sales professionals who are capable of nuance and diplomacy means paying higher salaries.

Some execs see these magic mirrors as a way to get away with hiring more teenagers. They are supposed to just smile and ring up orders. That, people, is the most direct route to Amazon domination.

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