Have a closet full of clothes, but can’t decide what to wear? Clothing retailer Uniqlo thinks they can help with that. A single outpost of the store in Sydney, Australia, is testing out a new method for marketing fashion to consumers. Instead of asking customers what they're interested in, the store tries to read their minds. It’s a gimmicky approach, but one they claim is backed up by neuroscience.
UMood, as Uniqlo is calling their proprietary clothing “experience,” is a bit like an interactive personality test that doesn’t require the user to do anything more than to think. The would-be clothing buyer sits down in front of a large screen, which flashes a series of videos and still images for their consideration: cherry blossoms, cats and dogs, storm clouds, a man dancing, a woman reading—each supposedly corresponding to ten moods ranging from “dandy” to “stormy.” Rather than having the viewer give conscious feedback, UMood measures brain activity for each image along five metrics: interest, concentration, stress, drowsiness, and general enjoyment. These measurements get matched to the corresponding moods, and then to particular t-shirt designs previously determined by survey to be the right fit for the mood in question.
If all this alleged science sounds a bit suspect, Uniqlo is quick to come to its own defense. Consumer neuroscientist Phil Harris, also an honorary professor at the University of Melbourne, was present at UMood’s big reveal to explain the rather impressive technology on display. The particular brain-computer-interface (BCI) headset is from tech company Neurosky, and it is coupled with custom algorithms from a Japanese company called Dentsu Science Jam. Electroencephalography data is used to “understan[d] how closely a customer is resonating with a given mood and then us[e] that reading to pick the ideal t-shirt for a customer at that time.”
Reactions to the technology were mixed. Australian comedian Ben Low, on hand as the demonstration's guinea pig, was pegged as feeling “calm,” a mood for which UMood suggested a green graphic t-shirt with a design of the three vending machine aliens from Toy Story. “I did feel like I was in a green mood,” Law admitted. He says he’d wear the shirt. Mashable's Ariel Bogle and CNET's Nic Healey, however, were more ambivalent to their options: a Merchant & Mills logo shirt and a cartoon Iron Man tee, respectively.
With over 600 t-shirt designs, Uniqlo clearly believes that there must be the perfect t-shirt for every person somewhere within their massive, color-coded stores. While that may be true for casual Fridays, UMood isn’t quite equipped to help out a weary professional pick through their business wardrobe on a Monday morning, nor can it choose the right pair of pants to go with that t-shirt—at least, not yet.