This weekend saw the start of an unusual application of RFID technology in a Tokyo department store when female shoppers had the chance to try out new cosmetics through a computer simulation.

The RFID field trial running until mid-February in the Mitsukoshi store in Ginza uses hardware from Fujitsu and radio-frequency tags from Toppan Printing in a complex system that aims to increase sales on several fronts.

Customers interested in, for example, a particular lipstick can have its tag read by a sensor, which allows a computer to provide a simulation of how it would look if they actually applied it. Naturally, several products can be virtually combined to give a fuller picture.

The future of shopping?

Additionally, the trial allows the store to track which items are most often examined by keeping records of exactly what customers pick up, regardless of whether they progress to the simulation stage.

Lastly, in a feature reminiscent of websites such as Digg or YouTube that are founded on user-generated content, the Fujitsu system accepts recommendations and advice from customers and relays it to subsequent visitors looking at the same IC-tagged item.

Although the Mitsukoshi trial is on the cutting edge now, the benefits to both customers and - primarily - to the retailer are so obvious, it's easy to imagine a future where 'smart' products and point-of-sale systems like these are commonplace, rather than innovative research tools.