When Coronavirus made it impossible for shoppers to access fitting rooms, retail brands had to find new solutions. A concept first tested by just a handful of retailers a few years ago, virtual fitting rooms are now taking the fashion industry by storm.
These immersive online spaces use Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence to help shoppers find the perfect item, bridging the gap between online and offline, and are giving online shoppers more confidence to purchase products from the comfort of their homes.
More and more brands are embracing virtual fitting rooms and making it easy for shoppers and stylists to connect live from their smartphones or computers. E-commerce is booming, but shoppers also still want human-driven experiences; brands need to adapt to these changing preferences.
Jeremy Yates, director of strategic partnerships, Happy Finish, is an expert in immersive technologies. Whilst at the tech platform Zappar, he has helped some of the world's biggest brands deploy global strategies for augmented and virtual reality. More recently, he's been working directly with Marks & Spencer's to help them shape their digital transformation and strategy around the metaverse.
Yates explained The SPIN OFF what he sees in the future of fashion shopping and retail experience.
With studios in five locations around the world, HF is a global creative tech production agency working at the intersection of content design, emerging technology, and immersive storytelling.
Our focus has been helping brands create high-quality digital twins for their products and enhancing their customers’ journeys with compelling immersive experiences.
You recently stated that mobile phones could become the next fitting rooms. Can you explain why?
“Virtual try on” is not particularly new but the rapid evolution of mobile device technology and particularly the camera capabilities of smartphones has led to a timely expansion of possibilities in the space.
It began with Augmented Reality furniture visualisation (Ikea), makeup "try-on" (companies like ModiFace) and glasses - all of which utilised the camera as a means of artificially adding digital content to an environment, whether to a user’s face or to their physical environment.
Once limited to placing digital content to faces and horizontal surfaces, we’ve seen a rapid expansion of both brand interest and the capabilities of mobile devices and tech platforms to support wider use-cases, including trying on shoes, clothing and jewellery.
Snap has been one of the leading tech platforms when it comes to virtual try-on, allowing a user to try on anything from makeup, jackets, hats, to shoes. Happy Finish has developed a try-on experience on Snapchat with The North Face, allowing users to try on their winter jackets.
This isn’t a necessity, although it can be useful. We’ve found some of the most exciting use-cases utilise Augmented Reality and fit the products in real-time.
That said, platforms like Shavatar have created really interesting avatar-based try-on technologies intended to provide customers a more accurate view of sizing before purchase.
There are also avatars in some of the virtual platforms in the metaverse, like Decentraland and Roblox. Users can try on different clothing from brands in virtual worlds as character skins.
Lots of brands use virtual try on (or at least product visualisation) and all the biggest tech platforms offer it in one form or another.
We’ve already worked with a few global brands to explore this space as per The North Face example and there are exciting things to come.
Would it be something that anybody with a phone can use?
That’s certainly the goal. We would definitely aim to support the overwhelming majority of mobile devices.
The challenge is more around an intuitive and easy-to-use customer experience. We want to add to the shopping experience, not overcomplicate it unnecessarily.
For us, it’s about finding a balance between compatibility and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with newer devices. It may be that a particular customer base of one of our clients is demographically different to another, which may mean we slightly adjust device support.
Whilst it’s still the best way to reach the widest possible audience, there have already been ‘virtual try on mirrors’ introduced in places to allow a person to try on clothes.
Certainly, the highest quality experiences are currently app-based and tend to be free of charge or built within social media ads.
There’s been some really interesting developments in “WebAR” with the experience getting better and better - again, it’s a case of balancing optimal experience and maximum accessibility and for now, native apps are still the best way to do this.
We worked with EE to allow England fans visiting Wembley Stadium to explore and purchase England merchandise in a completely new and immersive way, via WebAR.
Guided by their personal shopper (an AR avatar of Trent Alexander-Arnold), fans were able to “try before they buy”. This AR technology is a nice example of fans being able to view products from a range of different angles, which can be manipulated by pinching and rotating premium 3D models.
Apple, Meta, Google, TikTok, Snapchat and Amazon all offer product visualisation technology as a means to position digital content in a user’s environment and all of them have stated the value they see in augmented reality as a technology. It will be exciting to see these platforms further develop these technologies and we’re looking forward to what’s next.
What are the pros of using a mobile phone instead of a changing booth?
Ultimately, it’s about increasing purchase confidence. The pandemic led to online shopping growing to unprecedented levels. Whether it’s about fit or style, customers want to be confident in the product they’re buying. Virtual try-on has shown to increase conversion and Shopify have said consumer preference-based returns (e.g. size, fit, style, etc.) tend to drive around 72% of all returns in fashion product categories and in 2020, it’s estimated that US$428 billion of products were returned. Virtual try-on has the ability to reduce this number through increased confidence in style/size, saving consumers’ time, brands money and reducing the environmental impact of return.
What are the cons of it?
The technology still isn’t perfect, at least not yet anyway. It’s still difficult to guarantee accurate size and fit in the camera view and to perfectly overlay clothing onto users. This is something that will inevitably improve with the proliferation of camera and machine learning technology.
There are some user experience challenges when it comes to trying on certain products. For example, without placing a device down, it’s going to be difficult for someone to see their full body view with the front-facing camera.
What else can we expect?
With Augmented Reality headsets expected from Apple and Meta imminently, it will be interesting to see how virtual try-on experiences fit into the user experience of these devices.
We’ve seen virtual try-on be integrated into Facebook ads already, so I’d expect to see these types of experiences compatible with AR headsets too.