How fashion can leverage new technologies to bridge the gap between the online and offline

For years, many high-end fashion brands have struggled to complement their brick and mortar presence with a truly global online customer base. The physical shopping experience is marked by a tactile and sensory experience which is hard to replicate online. However, new technologies are helping fashion brands overcome these barriers and reach far and beyond what they thought possible.

Here are the five biggest, most exciting new technologies that are helping fashion companies reshape their landscape and expand their customer base.

1. Personalization

A personal shopping experience has been at the heart of high-end fashion shopping for generations. In-store assistants who recognize returning customers, know which styles to recommend for their tastes and set aside items for them have long been part of the appeal of fashion houses. Now, new technologies enable companies to continue the same level of personal attention online, at scale and internationally. Smart data, cookies and cross-device tracking permits fashion brands to notify the right customers to pre-order the next season’s sweaters, for example, in their favorite color.

For fashion houses, this level of personalization only augments their ability to serve their clientele seamlessly offline and online. The personal brand relationship can now cross borders and span both the digital and the physical, without dropping the ball. Smart data gives fashion brands the ability to give that same welcome, recognition and personal attention to a customer whether they walk into any store in the world, or visit online.

2. Virtual Reality

Augmented or virtual reality has huge potential for international fashion brands, some of which has already materialized. ‘Virtual mirrors’ are already in action at Charlotte Tilbury’s beauty store, for example.

Charlotte Tilbury’s AR Mirror

Their AR ‘mirror’ shows the customer’s face with an overlay of eye makeup, lipstick, and even skin makeup. Shoppers can lean in to examine the way the products look on their skin, or close one eye to scan the color effects from a different angle. It’s a powerful way to encourage shoppers to quickly choose which products to buy online or offline.

3. Virtual Fitting Rooms

Virtual fitting rooms show customers what items of clothing would look like on their own bodies. The technology uses motion capture to create a 3D image of the user’s body and then layers the garments on top.

Customers can also send still image captures of their new outfit to friends and family to ask their opinion before buying, thus returning the social element of high-end fashion retail to online shopping. When international customers can ‘see’ which items suit them best without having to leave the house, it reduces the risk of customers finding they don’t like their new purchases after all. VR mirrors and virtual fitting rooms boost international fashion brands by make online shopping more fun, more successful and more interactive.

4. Sizing Technology

Sizing technology has developed to the point that shoppers can realistically expect that the clothes they buy online will fit when they receive them at home. Some clothing fit apps scan the user’s body to create an online model of the customer which interacts with the fashion site’s products to give a far more reliable impression of how clothing will fit. Others skip the measuring or scanning and instead ask shoppers for their details such as height, weight and body shape. Providing a more reliable fitting standard is invaluable for international fashion brands. By reducing the cost of customer returns and increasing shopper confidence in their clothing, they can increase their bottom line while bolstering their international reputation.

5. Virtual Shopping Experience

VR stores permit shoppers to experience the layout, ambience and display of real products in real bricks and mortar stores without leaving their couch. They can turn their heads to look at the sweaters on a shelf and take a close look at the weave of the dress on each mannequin. In November 2016, Chinese corporation Alibaba created a VR tour of the Macy’s flagship New York store that even permitted shoppers to buy items from within the VR store.

One big advantage of VR stores over bricks and mortars shopping visits is that fashion houses can rearrange the layout of the online VR store. They can adjust aisles so that the virtual shopper is immediately faced with the aisles that they visit the most, tweak the inventory on display to appeal to the shopper’s browsing preferences or encourage impulse buying by strategic product placement.

Some fashion brands take VR shopping one step further with virtual catwalks and online ‘lookbooks’. 360 immersive video content brings high-octane, previously exclusive fashion events like New York Fashion Week within range of every shopper. Fashion houses can include the customer in their personal brand, give each one ‘front-row seats’ and spread their catwalk magic around the globe, instantly.

Tommy Hilfiger’s VR Catwalk Experience

In Closing

Although these are five distinct technologies which help high-end fashion brands in different ways, they are all ways to improve the customer experience. Although at the moment they might appear to be nice-to-have extras, it’s likely that soon such practices will become a pre-requisite expected by all customers. By narrowing the gap between the online and offline, fashion houses can expand their customer base internationally and exponentially.