Retail design technology – clothing store Hointer attempt to lure male shoppers with robots

31st January 2014

This week we take a look at some innovative retail design technology from Seattle-based fashion start-up Hointer who sell a range of fashion brands for men and women from Levi’s to Ben Sherman. Nothing unusual about that until you see how they have developed and applied novel retail technologies from robotics to mobile apps to address age-old the issue of men who hate to shop.

Photo by Dane Deaner on Unsplash

Photo by Dane Deaner on Unsplash

According to the Hointer website you can “Browse and try on over 150 styles from premium fashion brands. Discover what you like and find the perfect fit fast. No need to sift through piles of clothes or wait on a salesperson. Scan the clothing you like and items will be delivered to your fitting room in under 30 seconds.”

With self-service checkouts and newly installed ‘shoe shoots’ there is no need for shoppers to speak to staff at all – in fact there are no staff – as shoppers get in, buy their clothes and get out again as quickly as possible without speaking to anyone! So does it work? It would appear so –  since their opening in late 2012, the store has gone from strength to strength –  ‘Chain Store Age’ magazine recently named Hointer one of the Top Stores of 2013′ in the whole world and following this success they have also partnered up with Levis in NYC and sold their retail technology to other stores such as Spring in Singapore.

And it’s not just men who hate shopping apparently – the store now offers a burgeoning women’s section as part of their ’21st Century shopping experience’. So why is it so different? Inside, the store contains no salespeople, no signs, or stacks of clothes to rummage through like a jumble sale looking for the correct size. The clothes hang in lines, on racks for customers to browse through, like a sort of ‘offline’ online shopping experience. The hangers on the racks are magnetic so they click together and it is easy to browse through each one without getting jumbled. Once a customer finds something they like, they scan the QR code on the tag, with their mobile phone, using the Hointer app, pick out their size   and their selection drops down a chute into the fitting room ready for them to try on. The fitting rooms use Hointer’s own high tech ‘WHOOSH’ technology (complete with ‘whooshing’ sound) sent from a stock room  filled with German robots, waiting to fulfil each order. Inside the changing room a wall mounted tablet displays relevant media and product information and suggests matching items to try on that can also be delivered to the changing room at the tap of an app.  Once the customer has made their choices they can place the items in a bag, return unwanted items via the chute and checkout by swiping their card and the self-service checkouts.

“It’s as close to online in the physical world as you can get” – watch this video on Geekwire to find out more about the process:

Since launch, Hointer have continued to refine their process, applying an iterative, user experience design ethos to the physical store. They now offer tailoring with next day custom alterations, colour-coding for different styles, (eg. tall, casual, classic etc) plus real time data and user ratings to provide instant feedback – both to the customers wanting to know which styles are popular and to Hointer – quickly showing which are not so popular and should be pulled. Clothing tags are also NFC enabled (Near Field Communication) so phones with NFC need just a simple swipe to pull up the relevant info about each item. The founder and CEO of Hointer, D. Nadia Shouraboura, is the former head of Supply Chain and Fulfilment Technologies for Amazon. Her experience with the technology at  Amazon’s warehouse system helped her to develop the sophisticated Hointer system aimed simply at making shopping effortless. The name Hointer comes from ‘hunter’ which is in essence, what the technology enables shoppers to do – to hunt (and gather) rather than facing the eternal embarrassment or complexity of asking for assistance or interacting with other humans! Additional Hointer stores are now being planned in locations including San Francisco, Shanghai, and Tokyo. In recent years – as reported on this blog – the retail industry has seen a growing use of technology as online stores cross over into bricks and mortar and traditional stores develop their multi-channel prepositions with varying success – we can only wait to see if Hointer technology proves as successful in the UK as it has in US – what do you think of the whole idea? Are humans essential in retail customer experience?