The State of Fashion: How Tech Is Reshaping the Apparel Industry


When you look at the fashion and tech industries, both continue to be a breeding ground for innovation. In both worlds, change is constant, and today it’s hard to ignore how technology is transforming the apparel retail space. Shoppers have shifted from browsing racks in clothing stores to browsing AI-powered recommendation engines in e-commerce sites to find their next outfit, forcing traditional apparel retailers to rethink their business strategies and adapt next-level technologies to create differentiated shopping experiences in-store.

From magic mirrors that enable customers virtually try on various outfits, to using AI algorithms to predict future style trends, apparel brands are using new technologies to bring greater automation and personalization to every facet of the shopping experience.

AR/VR: The New Personal Style Assistants

Augmented reality and virtual reality are increasingly being used by apparel brands to extend the digital experience in-store and bring the “in-store” experience online. In store, brands are using AR/VR to let shoppers access digital media on in-stock merchandise that helps them style their outfits. Zara exchanged traditional mannequins and window displays for an augmented reality fashion show featuring fashion models wearing the company’s latest styles. Through the Zara app, shoppers can virtually see how outfits look and move in real life, and if they like what they see can purchase the outfit within the app or in-store. 

Apparel e-commerce sites are also utilizing AR/VR to increase conversion by enabling online shoppers to see products augmented in 3D in the environment surrounding them. Nike did this with tremendous success with Facebook Messenger’s AR platform. By simply entering in a certain selection of emojis, shoppers were given a link that directed them to an augmented red carpet shopping experience that allowed users to view the sneakers on top of a pedestal superimposed in their surroundings through the camera screen. Users could then walk around the pedestal to view the shoes at all angles. Nike’s experiment led them to sell out of the shoe in less than an hour. AR/VR are creating unique mixed-reality marketing experiences that delight customers with digital content at the critical moment of purchase. 

AI: The Cyber Trend Hunter

As in other sectors, AI has begun to revolutionize how businesses in the apparel industry operate. From supply chain optimization to data analytics, AI is predicting demand, identifying real-time and future fashion trends and creating more personalized shopping experiences for customers. Stitch Fix, with its “Hybrid Design” apparel line, uses AI algorithms to identify trends and styles missing from its inventory, then takes those trends — based on shoppers’ feedback on preferred colors, patterns, and textiles — to create new fashion designs. Adidas, American Eagle, Dune and The Tot use FindMine, Stylitics and Curalate to help shoppers style complete outfits online. When a shopper buys or browses an item, AI algorithms automatically provide suggestions on additional items to help them complete an outfit. AI takes the guessing game out of identifying consumers’ style preferences. Analyzing shoppers’ browsing and purchase histories enables them to predict what shoppers want next.

Improving Customer Service with Mobile-Empowered Sales Associates

Mobile technologies are extending onto the sales floor, building a bridge between the offline and online worlds and creating frictionless shopping experiences. Sales associates are using mobile apps to look up products, access customer information and checkout customers. They are also using them to communicate with customers in real-time who are shopping online, extending more personal customer experiences over the web. Mulberry is one of latest to tap into mobile app platforms such as Tulip to improve the in-store shopping experience. With Tulip, Mulberry is helping store associates share detailed product information, browse additional style designs not in store and even stay in touch with customers through email and text messages.

Additionally, Kate Spade New York uses interactive retail marketing displays to help customers customize their “Make It Mine line” of bags, letting them explore thousands of interchangeable accessories used to create a variety of styles. Salesfloor has shown that adding this level of service enables store associates to become brand ambassadors and build greater relationships with consumers that lead to increased brand loyalty.   

Where It All Comes Together: Tech-Savvy Showrooms

Five years ago, brick-and-mortar retailers were terrified of “showrooming,” where customers were on their mobile phones, researching products and completing purchases online.  Most retailers, anchored in their traditional roots, hadn’t even considered the move away from the traditional brick-and-mortar model to evolve to become a showroom — physical locations where shoppers visit to check out products, then purchase them for online delivery. Now, many brands are racing to become showrooms for that very efficiency in inventory and experience. Showrooms can be set up temporarily to test new markets or introduce brands to new audiences, or as permanent locations to encourage customers to continue interacting with their favorite brands. They also save retailers from the high rental prices and long commercial leases on large retail spaces used to store inventory. 

Brick-and-mortar shops such as Nordstrom, and digitally native apparel brands such as Bonobos and Everlane are engineering showrooms and bringing interactive technologies to create more meaningful and engaging experiences, both on and offline. At Nordstrom and Bonobos showrooms, in-store shoppers can receive personalized fittings, and sales associates can interact with shoppers online and market directly to them in real time.

Technology is rapidly changing the world of fashion. From manufacturing and designing, to personal styling and customer service, cutting-edge technologies such as AR/VR, AI, people-powered e-commerce and interactive showrooms are both keeping up with and staying ahead of consumers’ evolving tastes.

Trevor Sumner is CEO of PERCH Interactive.

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