Nothing to Wear? Ask Your AI Stylist
Artificial intelligence is helping people find their style on their phones, in stores, and even in their very own closets thanks to Amazon’s Alexa-based Look device.
A smart stylist is like a good therapist: It takes a keen observer of the human condition to do the job right, and the results can be life-changing. But stylists are expensive — which is where artificial intelligence comes in.
Fashion AI is subtle enough that shoppers are likely to bump into a dressed-up algorithm without even knowing it. Sometimes it’s a soft sell on an
e-commerce site; other times it’s trying to suss out how shoppers feel about items using in-store facial recognition. Amazon is even deploying Alexa to customers’ closets via the Look camera, which will critique your outfit choices.
Technology has long been chipping away at the rarefied, exclusive fashion industry, from bloggers replacing fashion editors in front rows and social media stars getting backstage access at shows to street-style stars outshining supermodels and earning hefty incomes on Instagram.
Now the industry needs all the help it can get, as shoppers ditch department-store credit cards for Amazon Prime memberships. Here’s how AI might help you experience fashion online, at home, on your phone, and in stores.
Since consumers are rarely without their mobile phones, you would think business would be booming for online fashion retailers. But as The Washington Post reports, it can be difficult to compete for shoppers’ eyeballs.
Despite some setbacks, subscription-box services saw a 3,000 percent increase in site visits from 2013 to 2016. Stitch Fix, for example, calls itself “your online personal stylist”; customers fill out a style questionnaire so that its stylists can build a wardrobe for shoppers. The Ask an Expert Stylist feature also delivers fast responses to style dilemmas.
The information customers send to Stitch Fix, however — including personal notes — first gets dissected by AI. A team of people then use the data to select items, Harvard Business Review reports. The AI learns from the choices made by stylists, but it also monitors the stylists themselves, judging whether their recommendations are well-received by customers and figuring out what information is needed for stylists to make quick and effective style choices.
Stitch Fix also uses that data to incrementally evolve a design — changing a sleeve length, adjusting a hem — until there’s an entirely new garment. Amazon is not far behind, with its Lab126 teaching AI to study fashion photos and come up with entirely new designs. As MIT Technology Review reports, Amazon could use it to make recommendations on outfits that show up in social media feeds.
Similarly, Propulse Analytics works to identify the qualities shoppers are drawn to as they browse items on fashion retail sites like Frank and Oak. The company was founded by Eric Brassard, who formerly worked in database marketing at Saks, and his platform adapts results to the cut, colors, and patterns that customers prefer.
“If you have history because you shop that shop, assuming that it’s a real store and you bought a few things, we create a personalized page with products you’ve never seen that match the taste of what you browsed and what you bought,” Brassard says.
For sales associates who are new to the field or a store, Propulse has an in-store component that lets them input customer preferences and matches those with products.
A hovering salesperson might not be the only one monitoring your in-store activity. Cloverleaf’s AI system, dubbed shelfPoint, scans customers via sensors that assess the age, gender, ethnicity, and emotional response of shoppers and then communicates targeted sales messages at them through an LCD.
ShelfPoint is found mostly in grocery stores, but Cloverleaf CEO Gordon Davidson says the company has had discussions with retailers that sell groceries and apparel in their stores. It’s also a good way to collect data without requiring shoppers to download an app, take a survey, or otherwise interact with a gadget, Davidson says.
The future of shelfPoint partly lies in turning the information it gathers into recommendations for shoppers. “Now what we’re looking at is, how do we start providing more benefit to the shopper? It knows that I’m picking up blue jeans as an example and it may come up and say, ‘Hey, have you considered a new brown belt?’” Davidson suggests.
Davidson isn’t ready to give up on physical stores. “In reality, when you look at the research Gartner came up with earlier this year, 80 percent of sales still happen in brick-and-mortar, especially in the fashion side of things,” he said. “Brick-and-mortar are still going to be around some time.”
You have nothing to wear? The Amazon Look begs to differ.
The main feature on this camera-centric Alexa device is Style Check, which uses AI and input from stylists to help you choose an outfit. Just upload two shots snapped by the Look, and Style Check will pick one, based on trends and what it finds flattering on you.
Amazon has not divulged the secrets of Style Check, but it says fashion specialists focus on fit, color, styling, and current trends. Customers can expect a response in about a minute, and every Style Check verdict includes input from a human stylist, but there are some tasks that the Echo Look handles without a human co-worker. Echo Look creates a lookbook of what you’ve worn and takes flattering full-length photos that are super shareable, for instance. Stylists (and Instagram husbands) are on notice.
The $200 Amazon Look is currently available by invite only; request one now.
Read more: “High Fashion to Amazon: You Can’t Sit With Us”
Originally published at www.pcmag.com.