The pandemic, two years ago, came with a series of consequent problems, all well documented subsequently. The supply chain hitches, lockdowns and social distancing norms wreaked havoc in the retail world. The flip side was that it ushered in radical changes in the way people shopped, particularly online. And when shops started re-opening, not many were too willing to try clothes in fitting rooms. All this while, the volume of returns through online shopping kept increasing.
But, the solutions had already existed, except that brands and retailers had been tardy in adopting the technology—of virtual fitting rooms. In the last two years, brands and retailers have been shedding their legendary lethargy in adapting to technological change.
The fashion media is flooded with news about tech developments in fashion retail. In March this year, American departmental store giant Walmart started rolling out the first applications in its app and web store. Walmart started with a ‘Choose My Model’ functionality, which allows clothes to be shown on fifty different models with the most diverse sizes and skin tones. The idea was to let people choose a model that looked most like them and judge for themselves how the garment would look on them.
Since it was Walmart that was doing it, it became news. But public memory is short. Levi's had, long ago, in August 2017 created a flutter by launching its Virtual Stylist’ online feature on levi.com, that was also available through Facebook Messenger. The Virtual Stylist, Levi's claimed, was built by combining that expertise with artificial intelligence (AI). Users would get fashion advice – available throughout the site – in a conversational tone via their mobile device or laptop, creating a more personalised, easy shopping experience wherever and whenever they want it.
In between the Levi's innovation and the Walmart feature, it is not that the history of virtual styling and fitting had been a yawning gap.
A closer look at developments in the AI-VR-AR ecosystem will show a frenzy of activity, with technology improving by leaps and bounds. That would, therefore, make one ask: are brands and retailers keeping pace too?