Debenhams Gets Clever About Mobile Invisible Pop-Up Stores

Written by Evan Schuman
November 2nd, 2011

In unrelated trials this week, Debenhams—the UK’s second-largest department store—and eBay are trying to push the mobile limits of creating stores with no physical infrastructure. But unlike Web sites, these virtual stores exist in a specific place to which customers must travel. In Debenhams’ case, a human being at that location would see nothing, except other human beings oddly pointing their phones around the sky.

The virtual store is not new. In a much publicized trial this summer, Tesco re-created almost all of the merchandise from one of its stores as a series of high-res photographs with QR codes on the walls of a South Korean subway. But the Debenhams’ effort takes it farther than any other retailer.

At least consumers arriving at that subway would see pictures of products and could guess what to do. In the Debenhams’ trial, consumers were directed to very prominent street corners in London (Trafalgar Square), Manchester (Albert Square), Birmingham (Centenary Square), Cardiff (Cardiff Castle) and Glasgow (George Square). They then loaded a mobile app onto their phones. If the geolocation of the phones matched what the app had been programmed to look for, it would display a ghostly image of a dress.

One feature of the app, which pretty much requires a second person, is that it enables the customer to be filmed interacting with the invisible dress. The image “appears over the live camera feed, so users can either interact with the dress on its own or virtually try it on. The virtual fitting room really works best as a social experience, most shoppers opt to have a friend snap a photo of them trying on the virtual garment,” said Bill Irwin, who managed the Debenhams’ setup for Gold Rungo, the vendor the chain used for the trial.

If the customer has a friend with her, the customer can try and step into the dress so her friend can take a picture of the customer in that outfit.


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