Retailers like Macy's, Adidas, and Modcloth are turning to virtual fitting rooms to let consumers 'try on' clothing before buying it online

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Retailers like Macy's, Adidas, and Modcloth are turning to virtual fitting rooms to let consumers 'try on' clothing before buying it online
Marshalls customers use in-store virtual fitting room technology in Hollywood, California.John Sciulli/WireImage/Getty Images
  • A growing number of retailers are experimenting with virtual reality tools that allow shoppers to try on products ranging from makeup and jewelry to apparel from their homes during the pandemic.
  • Emerging technology companies like Zeekit are finding early success partnering with retailers like Macy's and ASOS to bring the capabilities to their companies.
  • According to Zeekit, early data shows the service has helped reduce return rates for partners by 36%.

With fitting rooms expected to remain shuttered for the foreseeable future, retailers are experimenting with new tools to help shoppers try on clothing before they buy it: namely virtual dressing rooms.

The use of augmented and virtual reality technology has been on the rise in recent years, and industry experts expect the use of these tools to further grow during a pandemic that has rendered sampling and trying on products in person obsolete.

Though such tools have already been adopted predominantly in the beauty industry — customers at companies like Sephora and Ulta have long been able to "try on" different hues of makeup with the help of a screen — they're now beginning to appear at major apparel and jewelry retailers such as Macy's and Adidas.

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According to Ben Parr, president and cofounder of marketing platform Octane AI, there has been an uptick in retailers experimenting with virtual fitting rooms in response to the pandemic, ranging from smaller brands like the menswear-company Knot Standard to e-commerce giants like Shopify.

"The benefits of virtual fitting rooms during a pandemic are clear — lower risk of exposure to COVID-19 and the ease of getting fitted from home," Parr said in an email. "I think it will surprise many Americans that, in 2020, this technology is quite sophisticated and shockingly accurate. This will result in the continued spike of e-commerce sales that we've seen throughout the pandemic."

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Retailers like Macy's, Adidas, and Modcloth are turning to virtual fitting rooms to let consumers 'try on' clothing before buying it online
An augmented reality screen for trying on lipstick at Nordstrom in New York City.Bethany Biron/Business Insider

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Taking virtual fitting rooms mainstream

Despite the array of virtual tools now at the disposal of shoppers, Parr said the main hurdle for these technologies is consumer education and retention. In 2018, 60% of respondents of PwC's global consumer insight survey stated they had used virtual reality in some capacity. Yet trying clothing on via an avatar on your mobile phone is still not common practice.

One company looking to take virtual fitting rooms mainstream is Zeekit, an Israel-based fashion technology firm, which has already partnered with brands like Macy's, Adidas, and Modcloth to help shoppers get an idea of what a garment looks like on their body without physically trying it on. On the Zeekit app, users can upload a full-body photo and then try on clothing from participating brands and make purchases facilitated through the app.

Zeekit has also helped brands like ASOS conduct virtual photo shoots during the pandemic, a process that has helped the company connect with more diverse models with a wider range of body types to feature on its site.

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"The crisis in the retail world has also created an opportunity to reinvent and revolutionize the way this industry operates," Yael Vizel, co-founder of Zeekit, said in a statement earlier this month. "Right now it's all about personalization. We live in the era of the selfie generation and Zeekit is taking that to the next step, giving every brand and retailer the opportunity to extend their presence into the reality of their customers' lives."

According to Zeekit, early data shows the service has helped reduce return rates for partners by 36%.

Jonathan Treiber, CEO of offer-management platform RevTrax, said emerging technologies like Zeekit's may prove instrumental in aiding beleaguered retailers further burdened by the costs associated with handling online returns, which have swelled in recent months as a result of temporary store closures.

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"Online apparel has a high return rate because of this trial-and-error approach to sizing and therefore has a substantial cost for retailers handling apparel returns online," Trieber told Business Insider. "It's been very common for customers to order multiples of an item in different sizes to ensure at least one item fits with the intent to return the rest. This is a highly inefficient, costly and time consuming process for all parties.

Retailers like Macy's, Adidas, and Modcloth are turning to virtual fitting rooms to let consumers 'try on' clothing before buying it online
Closed fitting rooms at a J.Crew store in Brooklyn, New York.Bethany Biron/Business Insider

An uncertain future for virtual try-ons

Ultimately, Parr says that while virtual fitting rooms have the potential to become commonplace, he is wary of it having longevity once the pandemic subsides.

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"The big open question is whether this technology will stick once we are on the other side of the pandemic," he said. "My prediction is that many customers, especially millennials and Gen Z, will be a lot more comfortable with virtual fitting rooms and continue to get their clothes this way, even after the pandemic."

Treiber echoed Parr's sentiment, adding that retailers will need to be savvy in finding ways to optimize the technology to keep shoppers coming back once the coronavirus outbreak is mitigated.

"The pandemic will spur consumer adoption of retailer innovations that perhaps beforehand were a nice to have for customers," he said. "Some of these innovations will stick post-pandemic, and others will be a flash in the pan unless they create meaningful improvements in the shopping experience and deliver on their original promises."

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