Last week, Amazon was awarded a patent for an on-demand manufacturing system designed to quickly produce clothing and other products — linen and curtains and such — only after they have been ordered. Amazon applied for the patent in late 2015 and, since then, they has been growing their fashion inventory as well as its own clothing brands. According to a Bloomberg report published in September 2016, Amazon was named the biggest online clothing seller. Amazon got to that position by adding items directly proportional to the confidence consumers had in buying online. Starting out with shoes (easy to size) and T-shirts (a relatively modest investment and also easy to size), Amazon grew its range, building from basic items to fashion powerhouse names such as Kate Spade, Vince, Ted Baker, and Michael Kors, just to name a few.
According to a recent report on commerce by GWI, 20% of online consumers in the US bought clothes online in the last quarter of 2016. Another 14% bought shoes. If you don’t think that’s significant, what if I told you that only 14% of consumers bought online the item that “killed” brick and mortar stores: books.
Consumers are becoming more comfortable with buying clothes, shoes, and accessories online but new ways of selling and new technologies can push this market even further by making the whole experience more personal.
Fashion as a Service
Subscription services in shopping have been growing in popularity over the past few years. What in most cases started with organic fruit and vegetables, soon developed to include razors, toothbrushes, dog treats, toys and, more recently, fashion items. Several companies deliver shirts and lingerie on a monthly or quarterly basis to happy but busy customers who like the consistency of a brand they love being delivered to them.
But the model is changing. While Uber and Lyft are getting all the publicity for revolutionizing transport and possibly drive – no pun intended – consumers away from owning cars to simply ordering a car, fashion has also been moving to a more hybrid subscription rental service. Le Tote is a good example of a successful service. They deliver a tote with items based on style and fit as well as personal preferences. You wear anything in your tote for as long as you want, then send it back when you are done, ready for a new order. If there is something you like, you can keep it and buy at a discounted price.
The ability to change your wardrobe collection often with trendy clothes that fit your lifestyle needs coupled with the convenience of delivery is certainly something busy women, or women who do not enjoy the shopping, experience can appreciate. Adding further customization to the fit of the clothes would drive more people to try this kind of service and is where new technologies such as AR and connected sensors can play a role.
Visual Computing and the Buying Experience
With Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality coming to our phones and PCs, we see the potential for shopping experiences to be redefined. For example, being able to see on your walls how a color you picked will go with your furniture, size a new sofa in your family room or try your new car on for size without having to go to a dealership, is becoming a reality thanks to VR.
The possibilities are endless and fashion can benefit from this too. Already today there are apps that allow you to try an item on, such as glasses or a hat, via a picture of you. There have also been services that will ask you questions about your size, weight, ethnicity, pants, and collar sizes then offer what they claim is the closest thing to a tailored garment. Some use a combination of the two methods and marry your inputted information with your picture to come up with a custom solution. Custom clothing company MTailor takes it a step further and offers an app that can measure you with the camera on your phone and deliver custom shirts, suits, and jeans.
These solutions have been relying on 2D pictures and inputted info which have plenty of room for error. With smart fabric and sensors being added to clothing, there are more options now to properly measure size and use that information to find the right clothing. LikeAGlove started a couple of years ago to use leggings to measure your shape and then transfer the data to an app. Aimed at people who are on a fitness program to lose weight, they claim to better measure your progress compared to a scale that would not help you measure how your body shape changes as you lose the pounds. The app also offers help in finding the jeans brands and models that best fit your shape.
If you combined sensors for shape tracking and AR, you could see how certain designs would look on you and then have them tailored to your shape then custom-made and delivered. Amazon announced today Echo Look, an Alexa-enabled camera that lets you take pictures and short videos using built-in LED lighting and a depth-sensing camera with computer vision-based background blur. Echo Look will let you see yourself from every angle and offer a second opinion, thanks to AI, on which outfit is best as well as suggest brands and items based on the images you collect in your style book.
Bots and Digital Assistants as Stylists
With so many businesses focusing on bots and big ecosystem players focusing on Digital Assistants, I would expect both will be able to serve my needs when it comes to shopping for clothes and accessories. Store-dedicated bots could help navigate through the latest collections or cross-store bots could fetch the item I want/need at the best price and delivery option. Offering a personal shopper that has information about your tastes, as well as look and size, could be a differentiation customers are either prepared to pay for or see as an added benefit in an all-included service. The focus here would be more on an actual shopping experience rather than on tailored clothing for those consumers who do enjoy shopping online and like to do so efficiently but, most importantly, they want to know they bought what best fits their needs.
For a more customized experience that shifts from a personal shopper to a “lady in waiting”, think how great it would be if my assistant could suggest my daily outfit based on weather and the appointments on my calendar. That would be the perfect solution to busy people who do not want to default to having to wear a gray t-shirt every day.
There is no question technology will continue to change the way I shop for clothes. What I want is for tech to help me find what I need, what fits, and what is best priced, all nicely wrapped up in a box, delivered to my door. Tech might still fail to make me a fashionista but it would have succeeded in making me a very happy shopper.