Virtual try-on can future-proof retail
Virtual try-on is on the rise and if you think it’s just a fad, get ready to be left behind. Recent advances in the tech have inspired us, and others, to see how far we can push the limits of possibility, and there is an array of ways in which its application can benefit retailers of all shapes and sizes.
The latest advances in 3D rendering and AI-led pose recognition enable you to render digital garments on your customers body with a level of realism that will make them double-take – all applicable from a mobile device or in store.
Firstly, it’s important to acknowledge that, historically, there have been some serious obstacles in the way of its widespread application. Crucially, the concept became well-known before the tech was able to catch up with demand, which resulted in underwhelming applications in the past, and now, skeptical consumers as a result. Previous attempts lacked a grounding in reality and made you feel like a paper-doll, meaning consumers weren’t any closer to buying the item or even feeling excited by the experience.
But now things are different. We’re playing with real-world physics in a digital render so we can see how the garments drape on our bodies and how the material or structure might move and feel – all from home. This opens the possibility for brands to start creating proper virtual changing rooms across their platforms and various touchpoints. Like how you look in the changing room? Give consumers access to share with their friends and family. The virtual changing room can become its own digital experience and branded destination that consumers get a lot of value from.
There are also marketing possibilities. The need to film and shoot models in studios in every garment will become outdated. Why see someone else in the clothes when you can see yourself? Imagine Burbery inviting consumers to become the face of that season's collection. Virtual Try-On can become more than a fitting room, it is an opportunity for consumers to interact and be part of a brand experience. And there’s also still plenty of additional benefits outside of experiential marketing.
Most importantly, virtual try-on is poised and ready to have a significant role in the environmental impact of retail. We predict a reduction in both bulk-buying and returns as people can make more confident purchase decisions and won’t need to try on different style variations before making a decision. It’s estimated that returns in the US alone amount to over 11 billion kg of landfill waste and 15 million tonnes of carbon emissions each year, whilst in Europe, total packaging waste in 2016 amounted to nearly 87 million tonnes or about 170 kg per person. This is a significant problem which needs to be addressed imminently, and if virtual try-on can even chip away at a little bit of these colossal figures, then it should be welcomed with open arms.
There are also significant, immediate incentives to businesses directly. Namely, the afore-mentioned lack of returns can help significantly reduce overheads. In 2019 California e-tailer Revolve did $499 million in sales but spent $531 million on returns, after accounting for processing costs and lost sales. By reducing this amount, virtual try-on can play a role in avoiding such unsustainable business practices. It’s not all about loss prevention, either. The concept provides a fantastic user-centric experience for customers, which can build brand affinity and indirectly drive sales. For example, it’s well known that the IKEA Place app uses AR technology to let customers virtually try furniture in their own home, through their mobile phone, before buying it, but it’s less well known that this actually led to an increase in sales for IKEA.
Finally, it’s impossible to avoid the COVID-19 lens with any modern innovation, and virtual try-on offers further benefits here. The impact of the pandemic has meant that fewer people than ever are heading in store to try on clothes. It’s raised questions of safety which the retail business must address in order to survive. Retailers need to make sure their efforts are futureproofed, which is exactly what a virtual changing room allows - minimising physical contact with potential products.
With these incentives, it seems like a no-brainer as to why virtual try-on will soon become widespread. Imagine a company like Net-A-Porter giving consumers 'on the go' garment fitting integrated in Snapchat or Instagram, giving users the chance to instantly see themselves in this season’s collection, with no need to go to a destination URL or download an app?
It’s clear that virtual try-on provides an array of possibilities to help retailers deal with some of the biggest issues on their horizons, as well as being a fantastic experience for customers. With so much going for it, surely it’s worth a try?
Rob Bennett, CEO of creative technology agency Rehab.