Amazon is opening a London hair salon to test AR and other retail technologies

Amazon announced this morning it’s opening Amazon Salon, the retailer’s first hair salon and a place where Amazon aims to test new technologies with the general public. The salon will occupy over 1,500 sq. ft on Brushfield Street in London’s Spitalfields, where Amazon says it will initially be trialing the use of augmented reality (AR) and “point-and-learn” technology — the latter being a system that allows customers to point to products on a display shelf in order to learn more through videos and other content that then appears on a display screen.

To then order the products, the customers will scan the QR code on the shelf, which takes them to the shopping page for the item where they can add it to their cart and check out.

Image Credits: Amazon

The salon’s AR technology, meanwhile, will be used to allow customers to experiment by virtually trying on different hair colors before making a commitment to a new shade.

Amazon has already entered the convenience store market, grocery business and other physical retail, where it’s innovating with new technologies like cashierless checkout, smart grocery carts and biometric systems. But it’s not clear that Amazon actually has ambitions to be in the salon business itself. Instead, it seems the salon will largely serve as a testing ground for new technologies that Amazon will likely want to sell to other retail clients in the future, or perhaps implement in its own stores. And in the case of AR, Amazon may want to gather data on customers’ experiences it can use on its own shopping site, too.

Hinting that its goals are not about the salon business itself, Amazon today describes the salon as an “experiential venue where we showcase new products and technology,” and notes that it has no other plans to open more salons at this time.

The company has also recruited an existing salon owner, Elena Lavagni of Neville Hair & Beauty Salon, to help with this project, instead of hiring a new staff to run it long-term. Lavagni and her team have previously provided hairdressing services for other events, like Paris Fashion Week and the Cannes Film Festival.

Image Credits: Amazon

Amazon has not detailed what sort of data it will collect from customers who use the salon, but it’s clearly there to learn about how new retail technologies would work in a real-world environment. But the fact that Amazon is capturing customer images for its hair color virtual try-on should raise questions about what it plans to do with the data it collects from the new salon. Will it only be used to learn about the specific technology being tested, or will it be put to other uses, too?

As many recall, Amazon has a complicated history with its use of technologies like facial recognition and biometrics, having sold biometric facial recognition services to law enforcement in the U.S., while its facial recognition technology was the subject of a data privacy lawsuit. And its Ring camera company continues to work in partnership with police. Customers should be told if they’re participating in an Amazon research project, not just having fun with new tech products — and Amazon doesn’t share that information in its announcements. Amazon, however, told us that it’s not collecting customer data through the AR experience, but didn’t answer a question about the non-person data it’s collecting.

Like other Amazon physical stores, the salon will first be open to Amazon employees before offering bookings to the wider public in the weeks to come.