In simple terms, artificial intelligence is described as the ability of a computer to make a decision using real time data. AI is not here to replace our decision making skills, though it will improve the speed and effectiveness of our decisions. This is especially true when it comes to browsing the millions of products available online. Hence we are seeing AI applied to learn our likes and dislikes to increase the chances we’ll get to the right product quicker. With endless amounts of data streaming the internet and many industries adopting an AI strategy, you can bet the fashion industry is looking to capitalize. Here are a few ways artificial intelligence in fashion is changing retail for the better.
Visual Search – Find products using your camera
We interact with fashion every day of our lives. It’s a basic human necessity. Though how does one decide what and where to buy? Clothing purchases are sparked by a number of catalysts, many times by something we’ve seen. One might be intrigued by the coat worn by an actress seen on Netflix. Or perhaps a stroll through the mall spurred interest in the leggings of a passerby. If you’ve ever been in one of these situations, unfortunately the hard part has just begun. Your next step is to determine how to find your newfound interest.
In the past, searching for the right item online was comprised of hunt and find. You arrive at a website and click through different menus to sort the product catalog. To perform a more specific search, you might type “green sweater with droop neck and 3/4 length sleeve” into the search bar. More often than not this will return dozens of items, some that are and many that are not green sweaters. Not the best result if the goal was to quickly locate the coat the TV show actress was wearing. This is where visual search comes in.
AI based visual search is changing the way we search by leaps and bounds. Use a mobile device to snap a photo of a garment in a magazine, photo, or in person. Machine learning algorithms analyze the image to learn that product’s attributes. The system will then quickly return recommendations of similar products. Saving shoppers both time and effort.
The tricky thing about fit is it’s unique to each individual. There is no such thing as one size fits all when it comes to fashion. For these reasons most large retailers have a return rate that exceeds 30%. Coupled with free shipping both ways, returns due to fit issues are a major gripe for retailers. They’re constantly looking t0 technology to assist.
Machine learning algorithms and AI are being deployed by many technology companies to address the fit issue. TrueFit and 3D Look are two who’ve been around for a while, though each takes a different approach to their solution.
TrueFit considers themselves a data company. They’re partnered with over 1,000 retailers to collect garment specifications. Consumers access TrueFit’s questionnaire on a partner site and answer a few body-type questions. Then TrueFit’s algorithms go to work and attempt to recommend the correct size.
3D Look on the other hand has developed a mobile app which allows consumers to photograph their body to capture their measurements. The measurements can then be used to help the retailer make a size recommendation. In each case the data these companies collect will improve their fit recommendation algorithms over time. Therefore allowing retailers to reach their goals of reducing returns and improving the online customer experience. All the while you get an increased chance of purchasing the right size.
(Click here for more information on Tailored’s automated garment measuring and fit tool, Capture).
In Store – Interactive smart mirrors
It’s clear brick and mortar is not going away. Although we are witnessing a decline in both the number and size of apparel stores, brands realize shoppers need physical stores for a variety of reasons. Brick and mortar is a great complement to the internet, though stores need to have a different look and feel from the days of old. Thus companies are getting smarter about what their stores represent.
Improving the in-store experience is not a new trend, though doing it with AI is. As a matter of fact using artificial intelligence in fashion stores has only been around for the last decade or so. One example of how apparel retailers are catering to in-store shoppers is with smart mirrors.
Fashion giant Uniqlo claims to have introduced the worlds first smart mirror in 2012. The collaboration between Uniqlo and Holition brought the mirror to reality for the opening of Uniqlo’s flagship store in San Francisco. Dubbed the Magic Mirror, it allowed shoppers to try on over 100 coats in 60 seconds. Amazed shoppers could then share their experience on social media.
Today’s smart mirrors are much improved. They are positioned throughout stores as well as in fitting rooms. Shoppers can use them to try clothing on virtually, request a stylist and adjust fitting room lighting. Some will even allow a person to log into their profile and save garments for purchase at a later date. Rebecca Mikoff’s flagship store in New York City is an example of the newer style of smart mirror.
Artificial Intelligence Will Have a Positive Impact on the Fashion Industry
On the surface, artificial intelligence in fashion makes perfect sense. Segments of AI rely heavily on imagery and fashion is an image heavy industry. With almost every individual on the planet attached to a camera every day, it goes to say that AI, computer vision and fashion should come together.
Beyond the obvious business and consumer positives, there are environmental benefits as well. Experts continue to reinforce the necessity to protect Earth’s natural resources and the environment. Mounting pressure is being applied to big industry to maintain balance between producing products consumers require and adopting an Earthy friendly policy. With AI enabled technology applied at all phases of the supply chain, apparel retailers will have improved opportunities to monitor quality, waste, purchases, fit, and returns. We’ve yet to see the full benefit of artificial intelligence in fashion, but I’m betting we won’t regret its presence.