Virtual Try On: digital shopping experience at its best

Updated: Jul 20, 2020


Virtual try on is not a new concept. In fact, Converse, back in 2010 released “The Sampler” for iPhone users to try a pair of sneakers. Virtual try on is one of the many applications of Augmented Reality (AR), a technology that became a global phenomenon when Pokemon Go was released in 2016 and it has been a buzzword in many industries, from gaming to education, retail included, ever since.

AR has revealed itself as a very powerful way to interact with customers, through their mobile devices, building an enriching digital-based experience. Therefore, a wide variety of retailers and brands, such as IKEA, Nike, Gucci, Sephora, Volkswagen, LEGO,… have already joined Converse path and developed AR features to bring the relationship with their customers further beyond creating awareness, being able to measure ROI based on improved sales performance with very positive results.

Additionally, there is a significant appetite from customers for AR-based features to improve shopping experience as, at the end of the day, AR helps customers understand what they are buying.

Although there are many other applications for AR, most widespread uses of AR in retail, from the customer perspective, are:

  • virtually trying on 3D products (either through smartphone apps or virtual mirrors),

  • looking at 3D products at home and,

  • gathering product-related info while in-store.

What is augmented reality?

Although AR is a hot topic nowadays, most people still see it as something exotic and difficult to explain. We can define augmented reality as the technology that creates a bridge between physical and digital worlds, adding layers of digital information onto the first. Unlike Virtual Reality (VR), AR does not create the whole artificial environments to replace real with a virtual one. AR appears in direct view of an existing environment and adds sounds, videos and graphics to it.

How does AR work?

Well, for those who are not into the technical side, AR uses a combination of computer vision, data science in forms of artificial intelligence and recommendation algorithms and some processing power to show how the product would fit you.

The process works this way: all it takes is one photo of an outfit and one photo of the individual for the AR platform to produce a mock-up of how any garment might look, using hundreds of “landmarks” around the body, detected automatically.

AR for fashion: Virtual Try On

Try before you buy… anywhere, anytime. That would be a good definition of virtual try on features. What AR brings to fashion customers is not only allowing them to visualize how a garment looks like but also helping to see the fit and find the right size, from their mobile devices, with no need to have the physical product in front of them.

Most popular categories for virtual try on are:

  • Beauty and cosmetics. Virtual Try On has become a must to all brands in this category. Sephora’s Virtual Artist may be the pioneer and the most sound operation in this segmenet was L’Oréal’s acquisition of Modiface.

  • Footwear. Converse was first but big brands such as Nike, Adidas, Puma and even Gucci have already developed AR-based features to try on and configure their sneakers.

  • Clothes. Gap, H&M, Inditex, Asos, Macy’s, Amazon Fashion,… there is a long list of brands in the fashion industry that are already developing Virtual Try On for body garments, although nowadays it is really difficult to get a personalized, realistic look.

  • Jewelry and watches. Brands such as Tiffany & co, which is one of the most visible luxury brands online, launched the Engagement Ring Finder back in 2010. Most of the top luxury watches brands are exploring AR and even Chrono24, the world’s biggest specialist secondary market platform for watches, has added a feature that lets people try on watches using virtual reality technology on their smartphones

Benefits of virtual try on

As explained during the introduction, virtual try on ROI can be measured by its impact on different levers. Most relevant are the following:

Brand awareness

One of the main pain points of “legacy” fashion and luxury brands is their difficulties to connect with young generations. Customer acquisition costs have skyrocketed lately and deploying an AR initiative helps brands making them look more innovative and modern and, above all, it provides alternate ways to generate awareness and reach new audiences.

Virtual try on provides a funny experience to those hyperconnected generations and the ability to share virtual looks with friends and social media is perfect to close the loop of awareness. Gucci’s AR-based sneaker try-on, available as a feature in its app since mid-2019, may be the best recent example of how to generate awareness with virtual try on. Gucci’s virtual try on has evolved to cover more categories, from lipsticks to eyewear and face masks, as well as it has added new features to make the shopping process smoother (so Gucci can benefit from increased sales and reduced returns).

But, behind this “funny experience”, there is a lot of info that can be extracted from customers’ interaction with this feature, that can help improving customer knowledge, behavior and her preferences and therefore use it for short term product push initiatives as well as for long term collection planning, just to cite two value levers.

Increased sales

One of the fundamentals of sales techniques is that enabling a customer to see an item on herself significantly increases her confidence in purchasing it. And virtual try on is exactly this: recreating the physical, traditional experience through technology, adding convenience to the whole process.

There are several researches on the impact on sales and figures are quite different but all of them have two take aways in common: virtual try on increases not only transactions but also the average ticket. For some categories, such as beauty, virtual try on is not only an alternative, it is a must, as the business case is clear.

Reduced returns

Managing the cost of returns is a multi-billion dollar problem, with customers returning between 15% and 40% of their online purchases while, for in-store purchases, it is less than 10%. As free returns have become the norm for many online purchases, there is little incentive for customers not to buy multiple styles in different colors and sizes to just, keep one or two at the end.

Therefore, one of the main benefits of virtual try ons is the impact in lowering returns. But there are huge differences per category: while for shoes and eyeglasses those figures AR may have a huge impact (~2% return rate), for “body” items, as per their complexity to virtualize to make an accurate fit, return reduction figures are not so impressive. Anyway, returns due to colors or styles are minimized.

Virtual Try On Technology suppliers

There are many AR vendors that have developed Virtual Try On platforms. Most of them are relatively young as they were set up in the last 5 years. Those leading the pack are:

  • Body: Zeekit (zeekit.me) Forma (@tryforma) and Amazon’s outfit-VITON

  • Shoes: Wannaby (wanna.by), Vyking (vyking.io)

  • Eyewear: Ditto (ditto.com), Banuba (banuba.com), Visage (visagetechnologies.com)

The future of retail is virtual

Imagine that you can virtually try on clothes, either physical or digital, that would fit you perfectly, and, at the same time, get real-time feedback from friends and recommendations from brands on matching garments to complete your look, everything from the comfort of your home.

This dream may come true in the few coming years thanks to virtual try on. Key success factors to make it happen are the following:

From fun to utility

Even thought AR is not a new feature, the truth is that it still has the ability to create unique and surprising experiences. And customers, who are ready to engage with this technology, are quickly changing expectations towards it: from solely awareness and fun to become a feature that makes the buying process more convenient by bringing accurate views of product looks and fit as well as being the basis for an AI-based style advisor.

E-commerce surge because of Covid-19 pandemic and forced lockdown have put this feature on many fashion retailers’ tables as the idea to visit a physical store and trying on the same clothes that many strangers may have tried before is definitely not appealing.

Accurate realism from head to toes

Digital try-on services are emerging at the speed of light and getting better, more realistic and affordable, but they are still not perfect. Moreover, there is not a single vendor that provides a single solution to cover virtualization from head to toes to deliver a complete virtual try on experience.

But many companies are already working to meet this need. Zeekit plans to launch by October 2020, a virtual fitting room that will allow users to upload a full-body photo of themselves and try on millions of outfits. Wannaby is also entering into AR for clothes. Finally there are some companies trying to build a sort of virtualization hubs that gather the best of breed of different technologies to provide an AR experience for all categories through a single platform but they are still in early stages of development. This is the case of Capgemini with its digi.me platform.

Data privacy

Trying on a product using an AR feature leaves a trail of personal and biometric data, apart from the information related to customer’s preferences and wants. And, once recorded, it may stay in databases for way a long time.

So, although it seems that customers welcome AR and they don’t mind “sharing” personal data (probably because they don’t link this feature with data privacy issues yet) to use it, the truth is that brands and IT developers should invest in communicating data gathered and purpose and building robust data security mechanisms.

AR prospects in retail

Quick proliferation of AR technologies in the last 2 years may be due to, first, the massive adoption of smartphones that support this technology and, second, the recent boom of social media filters that have helped improving facial recognition, evolving machine learning and 3D modeling on images.

According to IDC Research, retailers were expected to invest $1.5 billion on AR/VR in 2020 in their aim to provide a more engaging customer experience (CX). But AR investment is not exclusive to retail as the same study reveals that investments on AR/VR is expected to rise at a compound annual growth rate of 77% through 2023. And these figures may become higher as a result of the forced lockdown and the need to find alternate ways to in-store shopping.

Although AR-based virtual try on features seem to be currently exclusive to big guns in the fashion and luxury industry, this technology will become a must to remain competitive for any brand, no matter its size, as it is happening right now in the beauty segment. Customer demands and deployment costs will definitely help its widespread adoption.

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