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– By Khahlil Louisy

Healey Cypher is the founder Oak Labs Inc., the company responsible for the interactive Oak Mirror that is revolutionizing the in-store, fitting room experience. In our conversation, the former Head of Retail Innovation at eBay talks about physical retail stores in an era of online commerce boom, customer engagement, and the advice he would give his twenty-one year old self.

Healey, from what I can see, the Oak Mirror aims to improve the customer experience. What prompted the development of the mirror?

Fitting rooms are the place of the highest conversion in-store (⅔ of sessions convert to purchase) from your best customers (who spend 80% more than shoppers who don’t make it into the fitting room). Still, it is the place of highest dissatisfaction in the retail store. As part of our larger mission to bring the best of online technology into the physical store and enable meaningful human interactions with beautiful digital experiences, the OAK Mirror was a perfect place to start.

Fashion retailers have been slow to adapt or even accept changes in retail technology. What has the response to the Oak mirror from fashion brands been?

At Oak, we are focused on ROI, associate & customer engagement, and data driven insight for retailers. To date, we have proven out some staggering data points: shoppers using the mirror spend 59% more than those who dont, 84% of customers engage with the technology, and we have brought in an unprecedented level of insight into what “happens”in the fitting room that is definitely resounding well within fashion brands.

Ralph Lauren was an early adopter of the mirror. How were you able to convince them that it made sense to implement the system in their dressing room?

RL [Ralph Lauren] is a very future-oriented company with innovation at its core. They had pre-furbished their fitting rooms with RFID shielding and data/power a year before we first spoke. The project had strong executive support from the beginning, David Lauren is an amazing mind in the retail space and continues to push the boundaries.

How has the use of the mirror helped retailers in understanding their customer?

Data, data, data… We are able to get so granular into the data that we can determine what actions, such as changing lights, requesting associate help or the amount of time spent in the fitting room, are positively correlated to conversion.

Do you think that the mirror can help retailers keep customers in-store, as opposed to shopping online?

Put simply, retail is no longer a game of proximity, selection, and price (think: big stores close to you with great value). It’s now about experience. The mirror is part of our larger vision for the connected store ecosystem and, yeah, we believe it’s a pretty delightful experience for everyone involved. 🙂

What data can retailers collect from the mirror?

Customers: traffic, engagement, conversion, duration, lighting preferences, languages, etc.

Associates: service-levels, response times, usage

Product: volume, conversion of each SKU (these sweaters aren’t being purchased! People always ask for size up/down…)

Are you collecting data at Oak Labs from mirrors that retailers use and how are you using it to help retailers make more informed decisions around the retailing experience for customers?

By specifically tracking the performance of individual products, we are able to capture the remarkable shades of grey in between the traditionally collected black and white in-store data. This allows for further insight for the stores, merchandisers & other elements of the retailer’s business. Are people not buying items? Are they always asking for a size larger? A different color?

Additionally, tracking service-levels against conversion also helps store operations teams understand what customers want and how to better incentivize their teams.

Has there been any unexpected benefit reported by retailers, that maybe wasn’t foreseen?

Perhaps most surprisingly we found the mirror decreased session times by 40% due to the enhanced efficiency of communications with store associates. At busy times, it’s an extra hand for associates allowing them to provide the same quality of service to multiple customers. We’ve seen associates “hack” the mirror experience, bringing items in to see variations and check for stock instead of going through more tedious inventory checks.

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Any plans to evolve the mirror, what other features would you like to add?

Always! We just launched NFC in the mirror which will lead to a host of new opportunities around contact-less payment for items in store & online, as well as authentication and loyalty.

You were Ebay’s Head of Retail Innovation. What takeaways from your role there were you able to apply to Oak Mirrors?

The importance of building a great team and staying focused. 🙂

I have to ask, why the passion for physical retail when it appears that consumers are increasingly navigating toward online shopping?

Glad you asked! Single-branded stores are actually the #1 way people prefer to shop across demographics. We love stores, we love people, and we love retail. We are building a future that we want to see: stores that are beautiful, elegant, that seamlessly blend technology into the authentic material of the surroundings, and that are about convenience and choice for customers. And I’d actually challenge that assumption.. When do we qualify that online-first brands like Warby Parker and Bonobos have “made it”? When start opening up stores.

(An aside: e-commerce is becoming insanely expensive for retailers in the post-amazon era of free-shipping/returns. If you’re best-in-class apparel you only get 35% of items returned. I predict retailers are increasingly going to be disappointed when customers buy online over in their stores..

Entrepreneurs are perpetually tired. How do you maintain balance between work and life and how do you relax?

I try to take up fun hobbies that are social: I love flying, sailing, and riding my Triumph Bonneville up and down the coast with friends. My wife is unreal amazing and so, so smart – spending time with her is incredibly rejuvenating. She’s a socio-cultural anthropologist so traveling the world with her is not only fun but can often help me question implicit cultural norms which have a huge affect on my world view.  But I’m also incredibly lucky – when you love what you do and with whom you work, then work doesn’t feel tiring, it feels invigorating. I would do anything for my team, and being tired doesn’t help them in any way. There are ups and downs (sometimes very dark downs), but it’s like anything in life: never, never, never give up.

What would you say to your twenty-one year old self if you were to advise him now?

Never forget you create your reality: think, believe, and it will manifest. And also… dude taking 21 shots on your birthday? Really? You’re going to find out that’s a really dumb idea in about 10 minutes…

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