The fashion and beauty industries are busy looking at how augmented and virtual reality can transform our shopping habits and make clothing more fun. This shift won’t happen in a week, but customers can already try out a new look using special tools, or attend extravagant events simply by putting on a VR headset. And this is just the beginning.

AR and VR in fashion retail

It’s not only about clothes, shoes, and accessories — the fashion industry also sells us dreams and stories. No wonder it is super-enthusiastic about AR and VR technologies: both turn customer experience into a sci-fi journey full of discoveries, especially for the online shopper.

Eсommerce, as you might have noticed, has been steadily growing over the past few years. It is now booming, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The trend is unlikely to reverse even when a vaccine comes along. Global eСommerce sales have already reached a gigantic $3.53 trillion.

Some experts estimate that coronavirus will accelerate the transition to online shopping by 5 years. Even so, fashion is unlikely to become 100% touch-free: many people still enjoy visiting physical malls where they can browse and try on real clothes. Retailers can use in-store AR and VR tools to cater to this kinesthetic audience. These technologies make shopping more immersive, enjoyable, and instagrammable. Increased engagement rates translate into higher brand loyalty levels and bigger sales.

So it makes perfect sense for fashion brands to integrate augmented and virtual reality elements into their infrastructure. In this article, we explore AR and VR use-cases in fashion to give you an idea of what your future in-store and out-of-store experience may look like.

Augmented and virtual realities: what’s the difference?

A person standing before a smart mirror

Before diving deeper, let’s start with the basics by looking at how Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) differ from each other.

Augmented reality (AR) is a technology that enhances (i.e. augments) the real-life environment by adding a digital layer to it. The simplest example is a QR code that makes goods and places ‘talk’ to us. There are also shopping apps that let customers know more about the product or see how an item of clothing would look on them. With AR’s help, you can transform your phone or tablet into a magic 3D mirror that offers an amazing variety of new looks and can even take a funny selfie. There are also AR mirror photo booths that can serve as a new-gen fitting room. Sometimes you don’t even have to install an app to have your environment augmented: you just open a URL, point your cam at an object, and see the added digital content.

Virtual Reality (VR) is a reality simulator. It’s not an additional layer, but a completely parallel universe. You experience an illusion of being somewhere else: it could be any place or point in time. These days VR headsets are making rapid headway in business and commerce — unsurprisingly, as they do things that look like magic. There are plenty of marketing use-cases. For instance, potential customers can have a virtual tour around the house they want to buy, or attend a 3D event, or step inside a product presentation.

How augmented and virtual reality upgrade fashion shopping

As we know, traditional shopping for clothes can be a tiresome experience. You have to drag yourself to a mall or a department store, find a place to park, and spend hours searching for the item you need. Then, you wait in line in the dressing-room area just to find out that the color or size is wrong. You have to visit several shops to find alternative garments and compare their prices and characteristics. No wonder many people welcome effortless e-shopping, which they can do from the comfort of their homes or even offices.

On the downside, when you shop online you cannot touch the product or try it on. As a result, many of us own a lot of clothes we never use because they feel bad, or look cheap, or don’t fit our body type, or don’t match the rest of our wardrobe. It’s inevitable, when so many online retailers use photos which persuade us to buy but don’t always give us a true-to-life image of a garment.

AR shopping tools can deal with this problem. Apart from adding a ‘wow’ factor to our shopping experience, they steer us towards consuming the right goods. This approach has the potential to completely reconfigure product marketing and display, as well as customer service, warehousing, delivery, and other fashion retail processes. Businesses unable to adapt to this shift run the risk of having to close their stores — both offline and online.

How AR and VR techs benefit fashion retailers

A person wearing an AR headset tries on clothes

There are many points of leverage for AR and VR solutions in fashion retail. Imagine, for example, a customer using a special AR app to make the shopping process easier. A good example would be Sephora’s Virtual Artist. It allows the customer to put on digital makeup and then tap and buy the selected product.

Here are some other areas where AR and VR are making big differences:

Customer Engagement

AR tools keep customers interested throughout the whole shopping process. Apart from offering digital try-ons, augmented reality apps can help us find the outlet, spot suitable garments, make a purchase, apply funny filters, chat with an AI bot and much more.

Brand Awareness

Fashion companies can apply augmented and virtual reality solutions to boost their brand awareness levels. For example, customers can use an AR app to scan the product and view the information about its unique features and advantages. Thus they are unlikely to overlook the important selling points that make the product stand apart, such as a hi-tech fabric with micro-perforation, or a water-proof outer layer, or eco-friendly cotton, or ethically produced mulberry silk.

Customer Satisfaction

Augmented stores, both online and offline, make our shopping experience more intense and emotionally satisfying. What’s more, it becomes easier and faster for people to make the right choice. As a result, they feel more delighted.

Customer Retention

A positive AR/VR shopping experience guarantees that a bigger percentage of customers will be back for another quality garment — and another dose of dopamine. They might well also recommend the augmented store/app to their real-world and social media friends. After all, everyone loves sharing great content.

Cost Reduction

Many online retailers have developed a customer-friendly returns policy to make the purchase decision easier. In fashion, this marketing trick comes with extra costs, especially when a retailer covers all shipping expenses. AR tools that let buyers examine a close-to-life image of the product reduce the number of returns and the amount of money wasted by retailers on moving goods around.

Another thing that major fashion brands can save money on is a runway show. A real-life event is normally very expensive. If it can be made virtual or at least augmented, all the costs will be considerably reduced.

Furthermore, in 2020 this idea is especially popular as designers definitely won’t have to cancel their digital shows during a lockdown.

Sales Increase

AR shopping is engaging, and offers a lot of extra features to play around with. This makes customers more proactive and curious. They add more clothes and accessories to their shopping cart and are less likely to have second thoughts and abandon it.

AR and VR solutions for different retail industries

Augmented reality can look fantastic, but it is also surprisingly practical and applicable. Here is a short rundown of the sectors that would greatly benefit from adding a digital dimension to their brick-and-mortar and brick-and-click facilities.

Beauty

Thanks to augmented reality apps, shopping for beauty products becomes much more convenient, hygienic, and satisfying. A customer can use an AR mirror to scan the face and try a product on it. This approach kills two birds with one stone. First — you reduce the risk of picking the wrong color when buying make-up products online. Second — shoppers who prefer offline stores usually avoid using physical product testers. But with a magic mirror app, you can swipe through the whole lipstick palette without ever smearing your lips. The same applies to hair — before you try that ‘stunning pink’ two-tone color style, you can check if it goes well with your complexion.

The selection process therefore becomes more immersive and game-like. A bonus is that new tools make life easier for make-up fans who often have a lot of unused stuff they bought by mistake. Once unsealed, skincare and makeup products cannot be returned. So, virtual try-on apps save customers a good deal of money and help them reduce product waste.

Fashion

The fashion industry leverages augmented reality tech to add new bells and whistles to traditional and online shopping. It makes shopping-related activities stress-free and charges them with positive emotions. As a customer, you can play with styles, textures, and colors, adding various shoes, bags, and jewelry pieces to complete the look.

This kind of approach works well with any consumer profile. For example, luxury shoppers can use augmented reality solutions to try on custom-made clothes or jewelry pieces before they are finished. In addition, they can attend fancy AR and VR events: big brands like Chanel use cutting-edge technologies to spark the interest of their demanding target audience. Fast-fashion customers, on the other hand, will bypass the huge crowds and piles of mismatched clothes that are especially troublesome during big sales. As for sales, AR apps allow smart buyers to skip a visit to a physical store and instead try on the selected items before things go crazy.

Department stores

Imagine that you are in a department store looking for something really heavy and cumbersome, like furniture. You cannot turn a bedroom closet around to get a 3D picture unless of course it’s in an augmented or virtual reality store that makes this task effortless. In this way, a VR-friendly retailer saves money on assistants, and enables a customer to scan the piece, look inside it, deconstruct it, and see if it fits into the room. This will be possible without even moving or touching the real items.

Ecommerce

Among other tricks, eCommerce retailers may apply AR/VR technologies to organize virtual try-ons. It works really well with goods like sunglasses that normally require a personal visit to a store. You can scan your face with a mobile device cam and try dozens of different frames.

How AR and VR tools make the shopper’s life better

A person wearing a headset changes model's look using a control panel

According to a recent Google Consumer Survey, 66% of consumers are interested in using AR for shopping. The enthusiasm is understandable as this technology offers them a wide range of exciting opportunities. Here are just some of them:

  • Try-before-you-buy feature

We have already mentioned this great facility that allows shoppers to avoid a discouraging dressing-room experience, save a lot of time, and try out a huge number of garments in different colors, patterns, and sizes. For those who hate the fuss and hassle of old-school shopping, a virtual dressing-room app is a game-changer.

  • Improving in-store navigation

According to Retail Dive surveys, 62% of customers are unwilling to give up the pre-sale contact with a product and still love going to offline stores. Augmented reality tools make it easier for these shoppers to find their way around a mall or store. Such guided shopping tours reduce uncertainty and confusion, as well as the amount of time the individual spends in the store. Meanwhile, the number of purchases goes up because in-store navigation has made shopping more precise. This feature can help you quickly find the items from your list.

  • Visiting a virtual show-room or a runway event

Unwilling to leave your couch? Augmented reality instruments make it possible to enjoy a catwalk view from a front-row seat or visit a virtual 3D showroom. It may be an exact copy of a real place or a totally digital environment. Anyway, you can combine the benefits of both formats and treat your senses to a novel experience.

  • Overcoming pre-purchase indecision

Doubts are natural when you have a choice. They can be frustrating, though. But making an informed decision is as simple as aiming your smartphone at a garment and getting all the details you need. It’s really convenient, especially if you are ‘an interactive introvert’ unwilling to approach a human sales-assistant for advice. You may also grow to love an app that shows how many people (including your Facebook friends) have liked the product you’re eyeing up. For some people, peer pressure is a powerful purchasing driver.

  • Personalized shopping experience

Augmented reality apps could use your personal details to suggest the products you might love based on your recent purchase history. Again, this customer-centric approach makes targeting more precise, with all the attending benefits. What’s more, you can find the info you need faster: instead of browsing through a long list of specs on the retailers’ website, you hover your cam over a specific part of the product and see what you need to know.

  • Designing custom goods

Before the advent of AR and VR, designing a customized outfit or an accessory took a lot of time and trouble. Customers who lacked creative vision could easily end up with a product that wasn’t up to their expectations. AR and VR solutions help to solve this problem, as they provide a customer with a virtual demo version of the product. They can see what their bag or pair of sneakers will look like in real life.

  • Making window shopping more fun

So far, window shopping has been all about staring. AR instruments can make this practice more interactive. People who are too shy to enter a store can still communicate with its window display to know more about the products, their specs, and prices.

Famous brands augmented: try-on apps, VR shows, and more

Two people wearing AR/VR headsets on a city background

There are already many real-life examples of AR and VR being deployed for fashion retail purposes. Here is an incomplete list of the brands applying virtual reality tools for customer onboarding and retention.

Converse Shoes

Converse Shoes arm their customers with Sample — an AR try-on app. No need to waste time on lacing and unlacing — just aim your mobile device cam at your foot and swipe the Converse models until you find what you need.

Zara

The leading Inditex brand disrupts the concept of window shopping with its 120 augmented reality displays. By holding your phone up to a special sensor, you can see a catalog model demonstrating a selected look. You can also buy a displayed item literally right through the window, by clicking on its image on the phone screen.

Louis Vuitton

Another innovative example of an augmented window display. The famous luxury brand turned 35 of its storefronts into magnetic shows. There are virtual roller coasters, golden dinosaurs, and balloons, all attracting crowds of kids and adults. These work-of-art windows serve no practical purpose, but they do function really well on a deeper level by increasing brand appeal and customer loyalty.

H&M

Recently, this fast fashion giant presented 6 AR image filters to promote its new streetwear collection. Instagram users can apply these filters to augment one of the music videos accompanying the campaign. Users can then share their version of the song with friends and followers, thus spreading the word about the collection.

Burberry

Burberry’s Embedded Experience AR tool uses Google search. This tool lets customers integrate a company’s product into their actual environment. Naturally, they find VR or AR shopping more immersive and entertaining.

Chanel

Recently, Chanel organized an event called Augmented Reality Snow Globe to celebrate Christmas and engage with customers. For four days, a New York boutique hotel was turned into a festive semi-digital shopping area. Those outside the city could “attend” the event by downloading a special app or using a Snapchat lens. The show helped bring many existing and potential customers closer to the brand.

Wannaby

The company uses AR apps to enable people to try on virtual shoes, jewelry, and different shades of nail polish.

TopShop

Topshop uses augmented reality fitting-rooms for their stores. This means customers can skip a visit to a normal dressing room and instead try some new clothes without taking off the ones that they’re wearing.

L’Oreal

L’Oreal recently bought Modiface, an AR makeup app, before embarking on a collaboration with Facebook. The aim is to use augmented reality to promote their products via Facebook’s camera services. Users can now see the effects of beauty products, including makeup, without actually putting them on.

Prada

In 2019, Prada launched The Augmented Sunset Resort Show to highlight its new resort collection. A former piano factory was digitally transformed into a jaw-dropping cityscape with floating light-and-color panels projected onto naked concrete walls. With models walking the runway within the panels of the building, the show proved to be a great mix of analog and digital virtual reality.

AR and VR in fashion: the future

It’s true to admit that consumers are becoming increasingly tech-savvy and this trend is bound to continue. People like experimenting and are intrigued by new things. One research reveals that over 30% of shoppers think that traditional retailer-customer interaction leaves much to be desired. AR makeup and makeovers, VR catwalk shows, virtual fitting-rooms, augmented clothing, and other exciting novelties could do a lot to spice up the relationship. Fun, curiosity and convenience are the major drivers behind the AR & VR retail revolution.

Augmented and Virtual Reality instruments are here to stay as they are meeting the new needs of retailers and buyers. When exploited to the full, they will make both customers and retailers a whole lot happier.

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