Virtual Try-On Tech, the Pandemic-Accelerated Trend, Is Here to Stay and Save Headaches

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There was a time when trying on clothing either meant a trip to a brick-and-mortar store, where you filled your arms with options and made your way into the dressing room, or ordered a few pieces online and hoping for the best. You could easily cull out what did or didn’t work while standing in the dressing room, but the latter was a hit-or-miss affair that often required yet another trip to the local shipping store to return what didn’t fit (and then try again later).

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Busy lives, hectic paces and a pandemic that’s forced people to rethink how much time they want to spend in crowded spaces are driving a new trend: digital technology and trying stuff online. The technology was being tested previously—but it became especially relevant when stores had to close access to their dressing rooms and as e-commerce sales continued to go through the roof throughout 2020.

E-Commerce drives demand for virtual options

Forecast to reach $4.5 trillion in 2021 (up from $2.3 trillion in 2017), e-commerce is a key driver of this trend, but it’s not the only momentum behind it. Generations Y and Z love being able to use their mobile devices or laptops to “try before they buy,” knowing that it beats having to drive to the mall, find the right store, pinpoint the best options and then physically try them on one by one.
The trend isn’t limited to fashion. IKEA Place lets customers virtually put true-to-scale models in their own living spaces and Sephora Virtual Artist scans your face, determines the positioning of your lips and eyes, and allows you try on different looks.
Virtual try-on technology has also made its way into physical stores. According to the Washington Post, mall operator Brookfield Properties is adding 3-D body scanners that direct consumers to the clothing brands and sizes that will fit them best, and MAC Cosmetics uses virtual try-on mirrors in many of its stores.

Buying off a flat screen

Virtual try-ons also help brands offer a more personalized shopping experience online, where picking out items off a flat device or computer screen doesn’t replicate the chance to touch, feel and test out clothing, furniture, makeup item and other products before buying. For younger, tech-savvier generations, using a mobile app to see what their furniture looks like in their living spaces is a siren song that’s hard to resist.

Virtual try-ons are also a money-saver for merchants, who don’t have to pay return shipping costs and manage the logistics of taking back products that don’t meet expectations. Online returns cost businesses $550 billion a year, and primarily because 25% of items bought online are returned (versus 8% for in-store purchases). The most returned goods include clothing, shoes, accessories, and jewelry, all of which have the potential to be virtually “tried on” before buying.

Finally, merchants can use virtual try-ons to create stickier customer experiences and keep buyers coming back for more, knowing that they can more narrowly whittle down their choices with the help of an app or online service. Customers also appreciate the softer benefits of being able to test drive from afar, including a more comfortable, at-home experience in lieu of a crowded mall and dressing rooms. And, as the world begins to open back up and we return to safer socializing and spending time on leisure activities again, not having to visit a store (or, using a virtual try-on option once you get there) means more time for family, friends and fun activities.

A personalized approach

For now at least, the virtual fitting room will continue to serve as a modern-day replacement for the traditional dressing room and a way to augment the in-store shopping experience. As brands continue to focus on creating a more personalized experience for customers, virtual try-ons are yet another step in this direction.

Smart marketers will embrace and expand on the suite of features and services available with virtual try-ons to solidify the trend and optimize the customer experience. The accelerated convergence of virtual retail and ecommerce offers an unprecedented opportunity for brands to capture new customers in an emerging environment or gain an initial foothold in a traditionally challenging vertical.

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