The Magic behind Farfetch’s ‘Connected Rail’

Retail Magic has global ambitions for its Magic technology, but it was the customers in a UK independent fashion store that helped shape its path.

The company’s technology enables details of items browsed in a store – products taken off the shelf for viewing or trying on – to automatically appear on a consumer’s mobile app. It was a concept requested by shoppers in Cambridge luxury fashion store, Giulio.

Humberto Moran says: “We had a system where we displayed product information and photos on the wall of the Giulio store next to the clothing rails.

“Customers liked it but they wanted the information on their phones, so the idea for Magic effectively came from the market itself.”

Magic works by combining with RFID sensors and iBeacons, but the product information exchange from clothes rail to app is via ultrasound. This is opposed to Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or the store’s mobile network, which proved more complicated to make work.

An in-store customer who opts in to use the Magic app, or a retailer-branded app with the same embedded functionality, will see items they have browsed in-store appear automatically on their smartphone. It allows shoppers to learn more about those items and potentially reconsider their purchasing decisions once they have left a store.

“Once a consumer has downloaded the app, they don’t have to do anything else,” Moran adds.

“They enter the store and the app is awakened by an iBeacon. They might need to confirm they want to use the app today, but then they put the phone back in their pocket, it automatically works, and they just go shopping.”

Retail Magic is raising funds through crowdfunding and angels. The aim is to fully introduce the app to Giulio over the next 12-18 months, as well as fit out the store and its products with the various connectivity required. Ultimately, Moran sees this becoming a common feature in the shopping experience around the world.

Farfetch future store

The technology gained industry approval in spring 2017 when it was showcased as part of global online fashion platform Farfetch’s future store proposition. Giulio is a Farfetch partner, and it was the use of Magic in the Cambridge store that alerted Farfetch to the technology’s potential.

“Farfetch knows that behind the success of online shopping is the fact retailers can understand the customer better because they can track what shoppers search,” explains Moran.

“They get thousands of data points when someone interacts with a website – they don’t get that in a store. With Magic, the person opts in and retailers can understand how they behave in store, and use that information in the way that best suits their business. That is why Farfetch also calls our technology the offline cookie.”

Moran says customers and shoppers alike can benefit from using his company’s technology, and the opt-in system, user anonymity options and consumer control over the app usage mean it is a product that has been designed with data privacy at its core.

The app’s major selling point, according to the CTO, is that it removes the need for consumers to scan codes with their mobile device to access product information online.

QR code, barcode or NFC scanning deployments in a store can disrupt the flow of the shopping experience, and that is arguably a major reason why there are few successful examples of these interactions in the UK retail market, despite much hype.

“That’s exactly the problem we solve – the problem with barcodes, QR codes, or NFC is that you need to take an action – people don’t do this because they don’t want to, or they forget or don’t know about it,” notes Moran.

“We need to do something that makes it really easy for the consumer to use. With Magic, all customers have to do is download the app.”

Referencing his company’s target market, he adds: “In luxury fashion retail, you can’t ask busy people or VIPs who enter the store to take their phone out or take a photo of an item – all they should be doing is shopping.”

Moran believes that the Magic technology is in-keeping with the demands of the modern shopper, particularly the younger generation who spend so much of their lives on smartphones.

He argues that non-mobile experiences can leave stores feeling “naked and boring” to the younger demographic of shoppers born into a digital age.

“If they can’t use their phone, it’s a negative experience. People want to go online to share their shopping experiences, see reviews, check environmental credentials of items, compare prices, and understand the product provenance.”

“The important thing with technology like ours is not about educating consumers on why to use it – we have to educate retailers about its benefits so they can communicate with today’s consumers in the most suitable way.”