Shoppers With Disabilities May Soon ‘Beam’ Into Stores
PITTSBURGH — Satchel had two iPads in hand and was ready to buy some clothes — she was hoping to find a dress, maybe a yellow one.
But she wasn’t browsing a store’s website. On her screen, she was greeted in real time by a sales clerk at an American Eagle Outfitters store in Cranberry. At the store, the clerk spoke through a tablet set up on a stand with four wheels.
Satchel, a 20-year-old woman with special needs who attends The Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh’s adult day school, used a tablet to guide the remote device through the aisles — following the sales team who pointed out different styles of dresses, jeans and shirts, holding them up to the camera. Satchel used a second tablet to help her speak to the sales team.
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She typed into a second tablet to say that she would like a yellow dress.
“I don’t think we have a yellow dress, but let me show you these,” the sales clerk offered and Satchel directed the device to follow the clerk to a rack of dresses where she held up a black dress with long sleeves.
Satchel typed: “I like it” and an automated voice spoke on her behalf.
The remote shopping trip was provided through an app developed by Pittsburgh-based teen clothing retailer American Eagle Outfitters to allow those with disabilities to get a personalized shopping experience. American Eagle and the Children’s Institute in Squirrel Hill are working together to pilot the Beam app.
The Beam Smart Presence System is meant to help those who are physically unable to travel to a store to “beam” into a participating location to shop from their tablet or home computers. The technology was provided by Suitable Technologies of Palo Alto, Calif.
Matt Nichelson, a project manager for American Eagle, said the recent demonstration was an opportunity for feedback. There isn’t a time frame yet for the app to roll out.
In addition to remote shopping, the app could also be used internally by the teen clothing retailer. For instance, Nichelson said, a district manager for stores in more remote places, like Alaska, could view displays and inventory and talk to staff without having to travel.
The Children’s Institute’s Day School is an approved private school for children ages 5 to 21 with severe physical disabilities and neurological impairments.
“We already had a relationship with the Children’s Institute through our charitable giving grants, so it made sense to reach out to them with this project,” said Marcie Eberhart, director of the American Eagle Outfitters Foundation.
While Satchel shopped, another student, 19-year-old Kalen, waited in his wheelchair and created a shopping list on his tablet, including a long-sleeved shirt, boots, sunglasses, a watch, jeans.
He may have been getting ready to shop remotely, but he’s no stranger to the mall. Kalen of Penn Hills said he likes to go to Monroeville Mall to hang out.
The back-to-school shopping trip was funded by American Eagle with gift cards. Nichelson said the clothes would be delivered from Cranberry to the students.
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