Last updated: AI and AR: Powering the future of fashion e-commerce

AI and AR: Powering the future of fashion e-commerce

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Will consumers abandon fashion e-commerce post-pandemic? In my world, it depends who you talk to.

My sister, for example, says that once she’s fully vaccinated against COVID-19, her greatest wish is to go shopping. In person. At the mall. She longs to browse, try on clothes and leave the store with a bag of carefully-chosen purchases on her arm.

Not me. Even before the pandemic, I only shopped for apparel in physical stores if I a) needed an item in less than 24 hours b) knew exactly what I wanted so I could be in and out in 10 minutes or c) was buying a bra. I began doing nearly all of my clothes shopping through online subscription service Stitch Fix in 2017, supplemented with the occasional Amazon or Zappos order.

Fashion e-commerce gets real

I was joined in my love for online shopping by millions of others in 2020, thanks to shutdowns and social distancing that kept consumers wary of lingering in brick-and-mortar stores. E-commerce boomed last year, jumping over 30% from 2019, reaching a level not previously expected until 2022.

While this year’s rate of e-commerce growth will likely slow, experts have no doubt that some changes in e-commerce shopping behavior will remain even after the pandemic. Fashion e-commerce is part of the equation: E-commerce continues to grow as a percentage of apparel sales — nearly 10% over the past three years. Companies have continued to invest in technologies that allow online shoppers to easily find the style and fit they want, particularly driven by artificial intelligence and augmented reality.

Here are a few examples:

  1. Fashion brands such as Rebecca Minkoff have gotten creative, using 3D modeling and augmented reality on its product pages, and found visitors 65% more likely to place an order after interacting with a product in AR.
  2. Sneakers are getting the virtual treatment from technology startups such as Neatsy AI, which is using the iPhone’s FaceID selfie camera as a foot scanner to capture 3D models that predict the right fit.
  3. Beauty brands from Sephora to Maybelline are offering AR-driven options for shoppers to virtually try colors and get recommendations.

The social media factor

Social media is also getting into the fashion e-commerce game. Snap Inc., which owns Snapchat, announced last week that it will acquire Berlin-based Fit Analytics. The company’s main product, Fit Finder, uses machine learning and customer data to help online customers pick properly-fitting clothes in an effort to reduce returns, and is already used by brands including Puma, Hugo Boss, Calvin Klein and the North Face.

Meanwhile, other social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram and TikTok are also making it easier than ever to shop right from their apps. Social commerce, in fact, grew by 25% from 2019 to 2020, and in February, YouTube expanded its e-commerce tools to make it easier for viewers to buy right from creators.

The future of fashion e-commerce rests on Gen Z

The question remains: Is all of this e-commerce news around AR and AI just hype? Studies show that consumers give a thumbs-up to using these technologies. A recent Google survey, for example, found that more than 90% of shoppers would consider using AR for online shopping, while virtual try-on options for items including lipstick and glasses are becoming commonplace.

And new research from Snap, in partnership with Oxford Economics, finds that younger shoppers from Generation Z will play a big role in pushing post-pandemic e-commerce, emphasizing that this cohort is more familiar with AR and other emerging technologies than older generations, and that they will become the engine of consumer spending over the next 10 years.

The bottom line? There is no doubt that my sister will soon get her wish to return to enjoying in-person shopping for clothing, shoes, accessories and beauty products. The pandemic will eventually end, and many will likely return to their old habits of browsing the racks at the local mall or stores on Main Street.

However, it is also clear that for diehard online shoppers like me, as well as recent converts that have gotten more comfortable clicking “buy,” the landscape of e-commerce options is only going to get richer and more wide-ranging. With more seamless, simple integrations that make browsing and buying on mobile, laptop or desktop easier than ever, the post-pandemic future of fashion e-commerce looks bright.

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