The U.S. fashion industry, which includes clothing, footwear and accessories, generates an astounding $460 billion each year, with apparel making up the majority of this revenue. And, as online shopping becomes increasingly commonplace for goods ranging from books and music to electronics and clothing, the world of ecommerce is looking for new and innovative ways to capture the attention and loyalty of consumers. Technology, specifically articifical intelligence and fit technology, could be the catalyst that the industry needs to usher in a new and more prosperous era of fashion ecommerce.
The fashion industry is usually among the first to wholeheartedly embrace new technology. From fashion models sporting wearables to interactive dressing rooms and Flixel photography, fashion and technology are well-acquainted with one another. However, while other industries have seen explosive growth in online shopping (comScore reports that the average shopper now buys 51 percent of their goods online), the online fashion industry lags far behind. The issue is quite literally a matter of fit. Consumers are afraid that clothes ordered online will either not fit or not look good when tried on. After all, social media is littered with photos of online shopping fashion fails, so consumers have good reason to hesitate.
Do AI and Fit Tech Work Together?
Artificial intelligence has the power to revolutionize the online shopping experience. With terabytes of data about consumer behavior, preferences and spending at its disposal, the fashion ecommerce industry is already well-positioned to take advantage of big data's predictive capabilities. When combined with fit technology, the primary reason for consumer reluctance to buy clothing online could be virtually eliminated.
Fit technology uses best practices and innovative techniques to provide clients with a private and customized fit experience in lieu of a physical try on. This is especially important as fashion e-commerce also faces the issue of a lack of universal sizing; the "same size" can and often does vary dramatically from one store to another. In addition, cuts and fabrics also have a significant impact on how an item may or may not fit. A Mintel Reports study shows that 48 percent of people who buy clothes online end up returning them, and poor fit is the number one reason for doing so.
The more data an AI algorithm has access to, the better it can learn from that data. Fit-related information that an algorithm learns from a consumer might include data about different body types, sizes, clothing styles and cuts, and how a consumer may respond to a particular style of clothing.
As powerful as AI is, by itself, it can't provide the type of one-on-one retail experience that consumers have come to expect when shopping. Style is very personal, especially as it relates to how a person's clothing fits. Chatbots, which can be programmed to simulate the language, attitude and expertise of real-life stylists, are increasingly being used to help bridge this critical gap between technology and the consumer experience. In addition, chatbots can be accessed from the user's platform of choice, including Slack, Facebook and Skype, making them both familiar and relatable.
Companies Leading the Way
Levi's, one of the world's most recognizable global brands, has launched its first "Virtual Stylist." It has the knowledge base of Levi's own specially trained style experts and the conversational tone, via a chatbot, of a real-life store representative. Available 24 hours a day, it uses the brand's True Fit sizing metric to optimize fit matching, and it even asks AI-related questions like "How do you like your jeans to fit throughout your thighs?" to gain insight into customer style preferences for blue jean features such as leg length and stretch.
Customers who access the Virtual Stylist through Facebook Messenger can even crowdsource their purchasing decisions with a "Share" button. Additionally, the "See it Styled" feature shows users an image-recognition-generated photo gallery of other users to help them figure out how to pair their jeans with other apparel and accessories.
Thread is another fashion brand putting AI and fit technology to good use. Users provide the site with photos of themselves, budget information and current sizes (taken from what's in their closets). Based on this information, they receive recommendations from a virtual stylist. If, for example, the stylist selects a blue shirt, an algorithm, known as "Thimble" then tries to find the best-fitting blue shirt for the client. The algorithm may search through more than 200,000 options within seconds, and it remembers each customer preference and stylist recommendation, learning more each time it's used.
The online fashion industry knows that something has to change. Indeed, millions of dollars are currently being invested into high-tech e-commerce fashion solutions, including AI. Furthermore, as personalization is widely considered to be the next phase in the online consumer shopping experience, fit technology is the next logical step. However, only those brands that integrate these cutting-edge technologies, either by telling a story or providing a truly unique online shopping experience, will emerge as the leaders in this new era of fashion ecommerce. After all, fashion trends are set by those who lead, not those who follow.
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