Fashion retailers are using interior design tactics to drive sales on store floors and in fitting rooms, using special mirrors to encourage shoppers to buy.

Beyond circus funhouses, the skinny mirror may not seem like a viable commercial product, but a California woman has found a niche for the product which tweaks the reflections of customers to make them feel better about themselves – and their purchases.

The Skinny Mirror is slightly concave, shaving off approximately two to five kilos of the person looking into it. There certainly seems to be a market for it in terms of clothing brands, as the company’s director, Belinda Jasmine, has gone from supplying personal and boutique shops to larger retailers.

According to Jasmine, the concept is about boosting the body confidence of the buyer in today’s image conscious culture, with more sales a direct result.

“The Skinny Mirror doesn’t change how you look, it just changes how you see yourself,” Jasmine says on the company website.

The mirror’s patent pending design features the same precise curve across all models to give the user a consistent, flattering reflection. It is also environmentally conscious, with frames made from solid FSC certified, salvaged or reclaimed wood and non-toxic paints and stains.

retail mirror

The Skinny Mirror comparison

“A completely flat mirror will show an image behind it of exactly the same shape and size as the actual object,” said physics teacher Dr. Ken Mellenorf of Illinois, in describing the science behind the mirror.

“Slight curvature along only one axis can make a person look fat or skinny. To make you look thin, your image needs to be compressed horizontally or extended vertically. Most mirrors bend over time top to bottom. If seen from the side, there is a slight curvature in the edge. The top and bottom edges are usually straight.”

Of course, the product and its not-so-accurate reflection raises moral questions, particularly if customers are unaware of its use. Jasmine told Elle that the Skinny Mirror logo appears on every product, including those in retail stores, though some retailers have asked her to remove it.

Jasmine recently participated in a “skinny mirror” study, conducted by Linn Gustafsson in Stockholm. In the study, the perception and shopping behaviour of 82 women shoppers was observed in the fitting rooms of popular underwear retailer.

The groups were evenly divided into two groups, each with 41 participants. In the group using a skinny mirror, 70 sales were made, for an average of 1.7 sales per person. In the group using a normal mirror, only 59 items were purchased, an average of 1.4 sales per customer. The percentage of customers leaving the store without buying anything was also higher in the normal mirror group – 27 per cent, versus 12 per cent for the skinny mirror group.

“The result showed that a skinny mirror significantly influences both perceptual and attitudinal body image, and had a tendency to influence conversion ratios positively,” Gustafsson reported.

In addition, the skinny mirror had no significant effect on body-size distortion.

“Your dressing room mirrors are a sales tool that will compliment your customer in an intimate setting where they normally would not allow a stranger to give feedback,” Jasmine said.

Gustafsson noted it is unknown how widespread the use of slimming mirrors is, but given how often shoppers can’t figure out why a garment looks great in store and not so at home, perhaps they’re more common than is generally assumed.

While The Skinny Mirror leans on the emotional experience of the consumer, other retailers are taking the digital road through virtual mirrors.

Clothing retailer Uniqlo has taken a step toward virtual fitting rooms by introducing the Magic Mirror.

Created in collaboration with Sharp and DNP technologies, the mirror eliminates trying on the same product in various colours and patterns.

Uniqlo's Virtual Mirror Concept Unveiled in 2012

Uniqlo’s Virtual Mirror concept

Instead, once the consumer tries the garment on, they can choose other options via a touchscreen, with those option digitally reflected in the mirror.

This idea could work to both increase the speed and efficiency in the fitting room or extend it, inviting consumers to explore more options. The mirror can even take photos which shoppers can then share via email or social media.

Online giant eBay recently debuted its investment in brick and mortar radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, introducing interactive mirrors at the new Rebecca Minkoff stores in San Francisco and New York City.

Beside the physical point of sale is a large wall with a mirror display. Minkoff’s runway shows, news and other information are projected on the mirror, but consumers can utilise it as an interactive tool, selecting items they’d like to try on.

From the screen, the shopper can browse the collection and after inserting their mobile number, can order sizes and have it sent to a fitting room by a stylist. The consumer then receives a text message when the room is ready. While they wait, shoppers can even order a drink.

Inside the fitting room, another digital mirror allows the consumer to change his or her environment, adjust the lighting and order a different size, cut or colour without having to wave a staff member down. Each item has a RFID tag attached, containing information that can be stored in the consumer’s personal profile. When returning to the store, this information automatically shows the items they’ve tried or bought.

After trying on the items, comsumers can send the items to check out and receive a digital receipt.

“People still want to use their five senses, not just the one sense you use when you’re doing e-commerce,” Steve Yankovich, eBay’s head of innovation and new ventures told Wired. “So physical retail, a showroom, I think will never go away.”

For clothing shoppers, final sales decisions mostly come in the fitting room, and retailers are finally finding ways to make this work to their advantage. Whether a business is keen to provide “smart” mirrors or use them to have consumers appear slimmer, and thereby happier, mirrors have never worked so much wonder.