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Retail

Smart shopping 21st century style

by Isabella Lee

Katherine Ho, managing director, mi-tu
Photo: Edde Ngan

Advanced technology creates extraordinary shopping experience

For many female executives, shopping is not about the amount of money that they can spend but how much time they can spare — a common lifestyle conundrum for metropolitans.

While dressing well is important, a leisurely stroll through the mall is considered a rare luxury for those chained to their desks. Efficiency becomes the key to acquiring an up-to-the-minute wardrobe that reflects both personal taste and fashion trends.

With an eye to the growing population of high-income earners and the premium working class ages 25 to 40, mi-tu has created a pioneering innovation to meet the needs of its time-challenged customers. The "smart dressing mirror and smart fitting room", is a system developed by the Institute of Textiles and Clothing at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and it may well revolutionise the shopping experience.

Customers place items in front of the "smart dressing mirror", and once the attached RFID (radio frequency identification) tag is detected, a full-length screen next to the mirror will display different combinations of that product. Similarly, in the "smart fitting room", the touch screen LCD will show all the apparel selected and any relevant mix and matches. Without having to leave the fitting room, the customer communicates through an intercom with the sales staff who then bring any additional matching items required.

Variety of choice

"The system also provides product price, fabric, size and colour details to the customer in seconds. By saving the one thing our target customers are short of in general — that is time, we enable them to condense what is normally a longer shopping sequence into a very short time frame," remarks Katherine Ho, managing director of mi-tu. "They are professional women who have very demanding tastes that would normally require significant amounts of trial-and-error shopping activity. This limits the frequency and timing of shopping visits, especially during office hours."

If a customer prefers a more traditional way to see what are on shelves, she can go through the notebooks placed in handy locations throughout the shop. The catalogue shows all the latest collections in an easy-to-read format. The content is identical to the images projected in the "smart dressing mirror and smart fitting room" system.

"Without reducing existing resources, our goal is to provide better customer service. The VIP corner is an example of this and is a place where both mi-tu members and walk-in shoppers can pick up fashion ideas from our sophisticated electronic magazine Icon by mi-tu," Ms Ho explains.

At the VIP corner, the "hit your favourite" page will pop up from the display screen once it identifies the presence of a VIP member card. Based on the past purchase record of that member plus the present fashion trends, appropriate outfits and recommended dressing styles will appear spontaneously.

Another way to obtain useful advice is from "chic hot", a presentation of the most popular items sold in that week or month. Customers can also make use of the powerful search engine, the "style hunter" to seek specific items. By pressing a few buttons, the user can get information on expected cost, category, cutting and design.

Behind the scenes

"Significant manpower and budget have been allocated to the enhancements. Our product development department, visual merchandising team and fashion designers, have all added value to the project," Ms Ho notes. "The results are very encouraging. Besides a substantial increase in sales revenue, we have received a lot of positive feedback from our customers."

The mi-tu business philosophy emphasises individual confidence building as well as long-term customer relationships. Ms Ho continues, "Every season, we have over 500 items in our collection, ranging from basics to accessories. We hope each customer can get dressed from head to toe without leaving the fitting room. To do this we offer a personalised appearance and unique style for every customer."

In this niche market mi-tu has made careful decisions regarding shop locations — high-end shopping malls with convenient access for the majority of customers. Currently, there are a number of outlets in different districts across the city: Causeway Bay, Admiralty, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon Bay and Shatin. According to Ms Ho, an expansion plan is under way. Instead of a rigid figure for new shops, however, the focus will be on acquiring quality venues.

To cope with the growth, the fashion brand is looking for new staff, with a particular demand for frontline posts. Candidates for sales positions must have related work experience and a good fashion sense. With the passion and right attitude for the service industry, a sales person can move up to supervisory and managerial positions.


 

Taken from Career Times 08 June 2007

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