With online purchases and e-commerce eclipsing the traditional brick-and-mortar retail experience, shopping has become an increasingly digitalized and efficiency-driven experience. Although in-store meandering and chance discoveries may seem like things of the past, retailers are finding new ways to expand and enhance retail exploration. From 3D augmented reality to Kinect-based browsing, the current landscape is full of technology-driven platforms that making shopping more interactive and individualized than ever before.
When it comes to the fuss of fitting rooms, augmented reality platforms have increased shopping efficiency. Toshiba’s TEC Hybrid Fitting System, for instance, offers recommendations, color variations and full outfits for shoppers to sample in front of a camera and screen within a given store. Similarly, Topshop debuted a virtual fitting room at its Moscow location that allows customers to superimpose items onto their bodies through the use of a re-wired Microsoft Kinect. The KinectShop also invites users to explore, combine and share clothing combinations with their social network as well as make purchases immediately through the module itself—whether at home or in-store.
Opportunities to try on different looks is in similar demand within the beauty arena, where hair and makeup investments tend to be less flippant than clothing purchases. InStyle recently released an iPad app that uses aggregated individual images and facial recognition software to project potential hairstyles and colors onto a user’s face. Shiseido has also taken this simulated approach by installing video screens at its Tokyo store that virtually apply makeup to a shopper’s face after a given product’s bar code is scanned.
As a response to the pitfalls of online shopping, Me_tail helps users visualize the way an item will fit through the use of photo-realistic 3D renditions of each individual. Like KinectShop, Me_tail also understands the interactive essence of shopping, which it incorporates through a social media channel within its already robust infrastructure. “People like to seek validation when making purchases,” explains Me_Tail’s founder and CEO Tom Adeyoola. “Validation can come from friends and family or be driven by trends, magazines and celebrity looks. It is hard to create a truly real-time social experience, but Facebook and even Google+ have shown that by embracing the social graph you can produce experiences both interactive and passive that can come close to providing the level of input and feedback that users want and need.”
When it comes to the physical experience of in-store shopping, retailers are playing into unique sensory opportunities that draw on digital advancements. In Seattle, Nordstrom emphasized the benefit of Kinect-based gesture tracking by allowing shoppers to virtually paint on the store’s window display. Elsewhere, Gomus, a Brazil-based music branding company, introduced an RFID technology that matches the mood of an article of clothing with music. When a shopper enters a fitting room, the device picks up on information embedded within clothing tags to then provide unique musical accompaniment for the shopper.
As for the future of traditional retail, these technological advancements hardly portend a dramatic finale. Efficiency and interaction will continue to be essential qualities for newer technologies that emerge, but the essence of fashion retail is hardly limited to utilitarian principles. Clothes shopping is, and will always be, a pastime that people enjoy as much for its daily relevance as for its social and personal indulgences—whether that means in a store, at home or through a screen is now just another matter of personal preference.