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Ebay's new 'smart stores' feel like the future of shopping

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Magic mirrors, massive touchscreens, and dressing rooms that know what you need next

Over the last year eBay’s brand has struggled a bit. It was hit with a massive security breach and announced that it was spinning out PayPal, a divorce precipitated by the overwhelming investor sentiment that eBay was holding PayPal back. Still, the company has shown steady growth and profit, giving it the breathing room it needs to try and reinvent itself. Its newest adventure takes eBay into the world of offline retail: a partnership with the designer Rebecca Minkoff for new "smart stores" in New York and San Francisco.

With PayPal gone, eBay needs new growth areas

Walking into the store, shoppers are greeted with massive mirrors that double as touchscreens. They can browse the aisles the old-fashioned way, or swipe through the store’s inventory. Rather than lugging an armful of clothes to the dressing room, you simply tap the items you want to try on. When everything is ready to try on, you get a text alert. Oh, and feel free to order a drink while you’re at it.

The dressing room has another mirror that doubles as a touchscreen. You can adjust the lighting to see how your outfit would look in different settings. If you like the style, but it's not quite the right fit or color, you don’t have to trudge back out to the floor or shout for your shopping buddy to bring you another option. All the clothes have RFID tags in them, so the room recognizes the items and knows what’s in stock. With the press of a button you can have a stylist bring you that look in another color or size.

The dressing room recommends accessories that match

The RFID tags also let the room recognize the outfit you’re trying on and suggest accessories to complement it. Whatever you try on is saved to your personal profile, so you can pass on something but easily purchase it later online. Along with this, eBay also hopes to offer shoppers personalized recommendations based on this offline shopping experience. Of course, once the fitting is finished, you can pay with a PayPal account without ever having to head to the register.

Our sister site Racked has written about the new eBay smart store a few times and have been very skeptical it would be anything special or worthwhile. But after trying out the San Francisco store for themselves, they came away seriously impressed. We’re not ready to call this the future of retail, but it’s certainly a novel approach that avoids feeling gimmicky. It may be coming to a much broader audience than these two boutiques, too, with the massive retailer Nordstrom also reportedly testing out eBay's new technology.