The pandemic has taught us many lessons and one of the most important is that the industry, especially the retail industry needs to invest more in technologies to survive in the future. Over the past 6 months, the digital readiness of the industry has increased to allow the businesses to continue in these extraordinary circumstances. These technologies are assisting the retailers in offering a healthy and safe shopping environment to the customers. The contactless alternatives like click and collect, mobile payment, AI based recommendation, virtual trial mirrors and 3D body scan will leave a long-term impact on the shopping experience, both online and offline, and will become an essential part of retail in times to come.
The top trends in fashion tech that have emerged as directions for the future are as below:
Digital Fit technology
Shopping for garments online can be a tough call because of a number of reasons like the size, colour, feel, etc. To bridge the gap between an online and offline shopping experience, the retailers today are leveraging the use of sizing technology that helps customers to find their right fit garment while shopping online. The technology has also contributed to the reduced return rate of e-commerce products due to the sizing issue which was one of the biggest challenges for the retailers.
The digital fit technology is being provided either as a 3D body scanner using the mobile phones or the AI integrated quiz. The 3D body scanners are the mobile based application integrated in the website and mobile app of the retailers. The technology allows the customers to try clothes on their virtual avatar and see different options. The customers using their mobile phones are required to take pictures of their full body which then captures their measurements and create a digital avatar of them. On these avatars, the customers are allowed to try the garments and check for the fit and size.
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There are also some technologies that do not require the humans to scan their full body, rather give an option to enter their size manually. One such technology supplier is AstraFit, based in the USA. A provider of fitting room solution, it offers tool that can be integrated in the online sales channel of the retailer. Using the ‘Fit Analysis’ algorithm, the solution suggests the customers of their size and provides them fit accuracy for each of the point. AstraFit is helping e-commerce players to have high rate of satisfied buyers. The solution providers of digital fit technology are BigThinx, TryNDBuy and AstraFit.
Virtual Trial Rooms
As the need for going contactless has become utmost important today, the technology that was initially introduced to eliminate the hassle of the trial rooms, saving customers from long queue and therefore enhancing the in-store experience, has proved to be a saviour for the retailers after the outbreak of the pandemic.
The technology is installed in a kiosk inside the store that allows trying of the clothes virtually. There are different variations that the retailers can choose from. One of them is the creation of 3D avatar for trying of clothes and the other is the use of AR to superimpose the garment on the mirror image of customers.
In the AR technology, the garments take the shape of the person standing in front of the mirror and allow the customers to understand the look of the garment. Terxtronic, based in Mumbai, is one of the providers of the AR Virtual Trial Rooms. The TryOn technology for the offline retailers allows customers to try the garments virtually. The software is integrated into the virtual mirrors installed in the store and uses Augmented Reality to allow customers to super impose garments on their mirror image. The technology also has a gesster controlled user interface that can capture the customer motions allowing them to try different options using simple wave and swipe motion of hand. A few solution providers assisting the retailers in this space are Textronic, TryNDBuy and Zugara.
Mobile Based Payment
In order to avoid any contact, the customers are reframing themselves from using cash payment option. Though a lot of customers prefer card payment, various other technologies like self-checkout, mobile payment, and scan and go technology will witness greater adoption in the near future.
The Scan and Go technology enables customers to enter a store, pick up their product, scan the QR (Quick Response) code, make the payment using different payment modes including credit, debit, Apple Pay, Google Pay, PayPal, and leave without having to stand in the queue of the checkout counter. One of the adopters of the technology is Decathlon, sporting goods retailer, who launched mobile self-checkout solution across its stores in Netherland.
The customers visiting the store need to download Decathlon Scan & Go for making the payment by scanning the QR code of the product. The installation has been done in collaboration with a British mobile self-checkout start-up, MishiPay. It also disables the RFID security tags attached to the garments so that the customers can exit without having to stand in the queue. A few of the companies helping with the installation are Perpule, AIMagnifi and Wizcart.
Click and Collect
Ikea India became the first to introduce click and collect option in its Hyderabad store with the re-opening of the store after the closure due to COVID-19. The option is to provide a contactless shopping experience to its customers. The service allows the shoppers to shop for a product online and then pick that up from the store.
The technology was being used to enhance the shopping experience of the customers through omnichannel capabilities. The customers could shop for a product in their convenience and then pick that up from the store the same day at the time they prefer. This excluded the extra waiting time that is invested in waiting for the product to be delivered.
In some cases, there are automated robots that make the entire journey contactless eliminating any interaction between the customer and staff. The machines installed in the stores can automatically deliver the products to the customers. They just need to enter the code they have received on their mobile phones and the machines will automatically understand their order number and packet.
Imagine how easy it would be to order a dress for the evening party from your favourite brand in the morning and picking up in the evening on your way back home. This would also eliminate all the extra amount of time to be spent in the store looking for options. Leading solution providers automating the click and collect experience are Cleveron and Keba, to name a few.
As retailers are switching from offline to online, it’s not just the presence that is important, but also how strong a hold they have at the online platform, since the competition has increased. The offline stores have an advantage of the direct interaction between the customers and the staff that offers style suggestions.
The AI based recommendation tool integrated into the online channel of a brand offers personalised recommendation based on the previous history of sales and return. They also suggest customers of the sizes that would suit them the best. Today a lot of customers rely on these personalised recommendations and experience that they are delivered.
For example, when shopping on Myntra, it recognises the most searched and visited brand, and offers customers deals and updates about it. It also helps customers save the details like who purchased the product and then would ask them on the next shopping as to who the product is for. Based on the answer, it would then recommend size of that particular product that would fit them. It will also suggest size that would fit them from a particular brand and would give recommendations for similar products.
These kinds of technologies are here to grow and would see wider acceptance and upgradations. Companies excelling in AI implementation for recommendation are Vue.ai and Recombee.
The retailers, in order to reach out to the customers at their comfort, are adopting various platforms like social media, apart from their website, mobile app and marketplace. The e-commerce alone is not serving the purpose of the retailers; they need to manage the entire digital commerce. Moreover, with every brand and retailers expanding themselves digitally, it has also increased the competition to stay relevant to the customers and deliver them a smooth shopping experience, while educating them on the products and brands.
The shift of customer preference to shop online may result in permanent shift in few cases because of reasons like convenience, wide array of product options, and discounts. Therefore, the retailers should utilise their time to have a strong presence on the digital platforms too.
Shopping with AR
Augmented reality (AR) is a tool that can revolutionise the way customers interact with the brands. The technology allows the customers to see how a product would look on them by trying it out virtually. Moreover, it also allows the customers to place a product on some specific area and check how that actually looks on them. Ikea uses the technology to allow customers to place the furniture on a specific area of their home and see how it will look before actually buying and investing in it.
The use of technology gives the customers a convenience to shop online by enabling them to actually picture how the product would actually look. Burberry recently was among one of such retailers to integrate the use of AR tool through Google search. Customers, while searching for Burberry Black TB bag or Arthur Check Sneaker through Google Search on a smartphone, will be able to see a digital image of the product at scale against other real-life objects.
The interesting way of shopping for products is bridging the gap between the online and offline shopping experience. Moreover, the convenience of having a better view of the product before investing in it motivates the customers to rely on these technologies. A few companies that are offering AR based solution are Designhubz and Varsha.Studio.
Virtual collection review and fashion show with 3D models
The restriction to travel and lockdown in many parts of the countries has motivated the retailers and brands to go digital. Earlier the concept of virtual fashion shows and virtual collection reviews was in the concept stage with not much application. Today, a lot of designers have already gone digital to organise a fashion show, making it possible for the industry to adopt the technology and its benefits.
The technology gives an alternative to showcase numerous collections to the buyers while eliminating the need and expense of an actual fashion show. Moreover, as the newer generation will be more concerned about sustainability, the technology will serve as a more sustainable option to the traditional fashion shows.
The technology would not completely replace the concept; however, would rather be a hybrid medium which involves a combination of physical and virtual, delivering superior audience experiences. This approach is far cheaper and much more sustainable than traditional methods, and therefore, may have widespread adoption in the near future. Recently BigThinx, an AI based size recommendation platform, organised a fashion show where 3D avatars were walking on the virtual ramp wearing 3D clothes. Another solution provider of 3D models for e-commerce is Vue.ai.
Visual and Voice commerce
Visual search uses real world images such as screenshots, internet images, or photographs to search for a product online. Advanced-level visual search platforms use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to understand the images and show similar results. A shopper, for example, can simply click a photo of the product they want, use it to inform their search, and generate an immediate result of all the similar products available. The search method can help them instantly find the correct product they are looking for and cut down the time searching for the right keywords.
The use of technology for inspiration and purchase is offering a better alternative to the customers who are unsure of the correct keywords to search for a product. As the technology matures, AI will help retailers deliver an even better and more seamless omnichannel experience with IoT; enhance search with visual, conversational, and guided product discovery; and offer adaptive, device-responsive, and dynamic outreach.
The ease and less time-consuming option for the search would lead to higher adoption of the technology for finding the search results. ViSenze and Pixyle.ai are few such companies that are helping the retailers to leverage the use of AI based visual commerce.
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