Amazon announced this morning that it is opening Amazon Salon, the retailer’s first hair salon and a place where Amazon is looking to test new technology with the public. The salon will occupy over 1,500 square feet on Brushfield Street in London’s Spitalfields, where Amazon says it will first test the use of Augmented Reality (AR) and point-and-learn technology – the latter is a system that customers can use to refer to products on a store shelf to learn more about videos and other content that is then displayed on a screen.
Then, to order the products, customers scan the QR code on the shelf that takes them to the Amazon.de shopping page to find the item to add to their cart and check out.
The salon’s AR technology will allow clients to experiment by virtually trying on different hair colors before committing to a new shade.
Amazon has already entered the convenience store market, grocery and other physical retail stores where it is innovating with new technologies such as cashless checkout, smart shopping cart and biometric systems. However, it’s not clear that Amazon actually has ambitions to be in the salon business itself. Instead, the salon appears largely to serve as a testing ground for new technology that Amazon is likely to sell to other retail customers in the future, or possibly implement in its own stores. And in the case of AR, Amazon may want to collect data about customer experiences that it can also use on its own shopping page.
Amazon points out that its goals are not about the salon business itself and today describes the salon as “a place of experience where we introduce new products and technologies”. There are currently no further plans to open more salons.
The company has also recruited an existing salon owner, Elena Lavagni of Neville Hair & Beauty Salon, to help with this project rather than recruiting new staff to run it long-term. Lavagni and her team previously provided hairdressing services for other events such as Paris Fashion Week and the Cannes Film Festival.
Amazon hasn’t detailed what kind of data is being collected from customers using the salon, but it’s clearly there to learn how new retail technologies would work in a real-world environment. However, the fact that Amazon is capturing customer images for its virtual try-on of hair color should raise questions about what to do with the data collected by the new salon. Is it just used to learn more about the technology under test, or is it used for other purposes as well?
As many will recall, Amazon has a complicated history with the use of technologies such as facial recognition and biometrics. The company sold facial biometric recognition services to law enforcement agencies in the United States while its facial recognition technology was the subject of a privacy lawsuit. The ring camera company continues to work in partnership with the police. Customers should be informed whether they are participating in an Amazon research project and not just enjoying new technical products.
As with other Amazon physical stores, the salon will initially only be open to Amazon employees before opening bookings to the general public in the coming weeks.