- The Washington Times - Monday, January 15, 2007

NEW YORK — Shopping with friends won’t require those friends to make the drive to the mall if a new product makes its way into stores.

A retail technology company yesterday introduced a program that sends a shopper’s image, taken from a Web camera outside a store dressing room, to friends’ computers for their approval and comments.

IconNicholson, which debuted the product at the National Retail Federation’s annual convention, says the program combines approval from friends before making a purchase — an important factor to their 17- to 24-year-old target group — with social networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace.

“Facebook and MySpace are so popular with this age group,” said John Bennett, technology director at IconNicholson, which calls the concept “social retailing.”

“We can turn that into sales.”

It works like this: The shopper turns on a Web cam that is posted outside of the dressing room.

She then calls or text messages friends and gives them the Web site name, shoptogether.com, or the retailer’s Web site.

And, if the retailer requires it, a password will be provided in order to visit the site.

The friends go the Web site, view the Web cam and write messages to the shopper.

The messages show up on the shopper’s “Magic Mirror”in a format similar to an AOL instant message.

Friends also can suggest other items from the store’s Web site and, of course, buy products themselves.

The mirror also has radio frequency identification technology that can scan other items in the shopper’s basket and let the friends compare them on screen.

But “Web cam” and “dressing room” might not sound right to everyone. IconNicholson says it will protect shoppers’ privacy.

Shoppers will have to turn on the camera and each retailer will decide how secure to make the program — whether the friends will need a password or whether the individula shopper’s image would be broadcast to anyone on the store’s Web site.

IconNicholson said it’s in talks with “major retailers” to place the product in stores this year, but declined to elaborate.

The company has an agreement with designer Nanette Lepore to use the mirror at least some of her boutiques. Her clothes are in Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman stores.

The cost of the service would vary from retailer to retailer, but it likely wouldn’t be passed on to customers, said Joseph Olewitz, senior vice president of client relations at IconNicholson.

He couldn’t say how much the program would boost sales — it depends on the retailer — but thinks the program would draw interest.

“If it draws young adults into the store, what is that worth?” he said, pointing to the crowd gathered around the booth at the convention yesterday.

The company hasn’t talked to Facebook or MySpace about working together, Mr. Olewitz said.

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