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For shoppers deciding whether to buy, there’s nothing quite like knowing a product is the right look and fit. It may look good and be well-made, but getting to yes often requires seeing oneself in it.
In apparel and fashion, it's why the dressing room is an important part of the shopping experience. One of the many innovations to arrive in the 19th century with the rise of department stores, it offers a bridge between the public, stylized setting of the store, and the personal, every day space where the buyer will ultimately use the product.
The rise of ecommerce ushered in an era in which many key elements of the shopper experience was reinvented with tools that made it easier to find products, and make a purchase from anywhere that had internet access. A focus on simplicity and speed meant some elements of the in-store experience didn’t survive, but the dressing room is proving to have staying power. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced many fitting rooms to close for health and safety, it offered additional incentive for retailers to offer a version of the dressing room in digital form.
This is leading technologists to develop fitting room tools for a new generation of shopping experience.
Vue.ai applies artificial intelligence to its work with brands and retailers in the areas of personalization, search and imagery. Some of its customers include thredUP, DIESEL, Off-White and Centric Brands.
A virtual dressing room is prominent among the capabilities it offers. Drawing on a brand's products and images of models, the company’s virtual dressing room tool allows users to select a model that looks like them, and style it with products they are considering. Think of it as an AI-powered version of those day-at-the-mall montages from movies.
Embedded within a product development page, the virtual dressing room allows shoppers to see how products look on someone that is a similar look and size to themselves, and swap outfits.
“Having somebody that looks very similar to you can give you a lot of information about that product that you wouldn’t normally have,” said Brian Harris, Vue.ai Director of R&D and New Initiatives.
Virtual Dressing Room Demo | VueModel | Vue.ai
Using machine learning frameworks called Generative Adversarial Networks, the technology is designed so that shoppers can select across a range of different outfits and sizes. Yet it goes deeper than showing the difference between small and large, or shirt and pants. The technology understands silhouette, the type of sleeve, neckline and design elements. It also understands body parts, shape, musculature and skin tone. This can quickly add up to a number of options, but the technology is designed to sort that out, and is trained to provide exactly what shoppers request, Harris said.
“The number of possible combinations that you can create rapidly becomes millions within just a couple of product variations,” Harris said. “We provide the access to be able to do any of that with that accuracy without having to worry about something coming out as an inaccurately represented product.”
For brands and retailers, the dressing room can help increase conversion. An often-quoted statistic in retail indicates that customers who use an in-person fitting room are 70% more likely to buy a product than those who don’t. So the logic follows that this would also apply in the digital space. Fitting rooms can also boost retention and cut down on returns, said Harris.
For shoppers, the tool serves as a stylist of sorts, swapping out not only combinations of products, but also the models. For Vue.ai, a big focus is on being inclusive of all shoppers.
“Being able to represent size inclusion as well as ethnicity inclusion is really important in the marketplace, Harris said, adding that it’s important “to show models that look like the shopper and give a good idea of what this product might actually look like on [them].”
When shoppers see themselves represented, they can see themselves in a product.
Trending in Shopper Experience
Microservices architecture allows the company to give retailers ownership over omnichannel software.
With the growth of digital commerce, providing consumer choice is at the center of all of a retailer’s operations.
In recent years, that became especially evident in the area of fulfillment.
Ecommerce made the process of moving an order into place for delivery a crucial function, as the ability to source products close to demand quickly was an imperative.
“Retailers are looking to own more of their fulfillment destiny because consumer expectations have increased,” Chap Achen, VP of product strategy and operations at Nextuple, told The Current on the floor of the NRF Big Show 2023. “Fulfillment is now a competitive weapon.”
As digital operations increasingly blend with the physical store, a host of new fulfillment options are coming online. They can have an item delivered from the store on the same day, or they pick it up. Even a wider offering such as in-store pickup has a host of different choices inside of it. Consumers can pick up an item at a counter, or a locker. They can stop by anytime, or schedule a pickup on Saturday.
While this optionality helps retailers meet customers where they are, it also adds complexity to the systems that run them, and requires operational adjustments to put them in place.
It means the software that powers fulfillment operations must also meet retailers where they are, Achen said. Many retailers have specific setups and processes. They may have a store located in a mall with a nearby distribution center, or a series of small storefronts. At the same time, retailers need to have flexibility with the software that they use so they can provide options to consumers.
For Nextuple, the vehicle to provide this is microservices, which describes a software architecture in which the parts of an application work independently, but are also built to work together. The company harnesses microservices to offer an ownership-centered approach to deploying its software through a product called Nextuple Fulfillment Studio.
“Today, there are only two ways to buy software: [software as a service] or custom building,” Achen said. “You can do it yourself or with a partner. We are a third option. We will help you accelerate your time to market because we've already developed 80% of your requirements, and then we'll give you that as source code.”
The software is composable. Retailers own the source code, and they can iterate. Along the way, they have the ability to swap out components of the software for pieces that enable them to better respond to the needs of customers, if they choose.
It shows how composable commerce is spreading throughout retail operations. A first wave of development applied the approach to the “front-end” of commerce, such as operating an ecommerce store and marketing. With fulfillment software such as Nextuple coming online, there are signs it is being applied to backend operations, as well.
In all, Nextuple offers 14 microservices as part of the Studio, including engines for same-day delivery, storage, inventory management and sourcing.
At the NRF Big Show, Nextuple announced that it is live with five national omnichannel retailers. Together, they have $50 billion in annual revenue and 7000 store locations.
The company is aiming to serve a group of retailers that are widely known, but still looking to hone operations for omnichannel retail. When it comes to fulfillment technology, the retail landscape has distinct tiers.
The largest players have built their own fulfillment tech to power logistics networks that reach across the country.
Name brand retailers with a national presence also want to offer competitive fulfillment, but haven’t made the move to acquire platforms or developed their own software in-house. Typically, they would seek out a software provider that offers a set platform on a subscription model. But the particular needs of commerce require software that powers physical operations with digital tools. That requires a different type of solution, Nextuple believes.
“We want to level the playing field,” Achen said. “We're helping the mid-tier [retailer] compete with Target, Amazon and Walmart.”