Three British retail outlets have begun using a technology called VMBeacon in their store mannequins, so that shoppers with the appropriate app can check details about the clothes that the mannequins are wearing, and the stores can learn more about their shoppers.
The VMBeacon, from tech and design company Iconeme, can be programmed by the retailer through a secure web portal, so that shoppers will see details like prices or links to the retailer’s website, or information about where in the store the relevant item can be found. The first outlets to use it are a House of Fraser store in Aberdeen, a Hawes & Curtis in London, and a Bentalls in Kingston upon Thames.
The Iconeme app will alert users when they are within 50 meters of a VMBeacon, telling them what content is on offer. The system uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), a type of Bluetooth connectivity that is built into many modern phones. BLE is the same technology that underpins iBeacon, Apple’s platform for tracking iPhone users as they go through retail environments, as well as similar efforts on the Android front (the Iconeme app works on both platforms).
And yes, that’s part of the game here too – VMBeacon tracks customers as they stroll through suitably equipped shops, giving retailers data about shoppers’ age, gender and location, as well as what they’ve looked at and whether they went on to buy it online. Shoppers can control what data they’re giving out through the app’s privacy settings.
This kind of system is made for people who like to browse items in the flesh before buying them online — it also gives them the opportunity to save and share “looks” the way they would with an online fashion store. Ultimately, it’s all about fusing the offline and online worlds, in terms of tracking and targeting potential customers, and also in terms of adapting how retailing works.