COVID-19 has brought tremendous change in the retail industry to keep people safe. Despite numerous advancements in technology and engagement strategies, the pandemic has negated the most efficient ways of conducting business. The days of browsing leisurely, sampling products, and trying on clothes are over. Personal safety is far more important than these retail strategies.
Although COVID-19 has become a major disruption for the retail industry, new technologies present an alternative that is more important than ever: virtual fitting room technology. This would allow customers to use augmented reality renders on images and videos of themselves to virtually wear items. This effectively would allow customers to try on clothes without leaving their home.
Augmented reality is already being used in the retail industry as marketing strategies in areas like furniture and helping customers find the location where an item is sold. Paired with artificial intelligence to help generate these renders, AR/VR apps can provide at-home experiences to customers that have never been seen before. When faced with a pandemic’s challenges, it becomes critical for the development of virtual fitting rooms to accelerate. Current projections indicate that the virtual fitting room industry will be worth $10 billion by 2027.
Customer Adoption of Virtual Fitting Rooms
One of the primary challenges of this technology is gauging whether customers will like using it. Retailers have had mixed success in incorporating this technology in the past. However, new successes have been observed with retailers like Macy’s, Sephora, Adidas, and others that have utilized virtual fitting room technology to help customers try on items virtually with AR.
This is especially important when in-person fitting rooms are closed to keep people from getting sick. Even handling merchandise is discouraged because of how the virus that causes COVID-19 can survive for several days on certain surfaces. Also, many customers are choosing to stay home amid health fears. A virtual fitting room option makes shopping more accessible to these customers who do not visit stores in-person.
In the face of COVID-19’s business impact, virtual fitting rooms present an opportunity to overcome the pandemic’s challenges. It has the chance to bring profits back to the retail industry and save vanishing storefronts from extinction.
Virtual Fitting Rooms: How They Work
Augmented reality and artificial intelligence are the main driving technologies behind virtual fitting rooms. The unification of these technologies has profound consequences for the retail industry.
Virtual fitting rooms use a video recording of a person, most likely captured using a smartphone. Smartphones are a popular solution because they are portable, owned by most consumers, have a camera to capture the content, and a screen to view the virtual item’s rendered image fitting in real-time.
Human pose estimation algorithms parse the video to identify key points or locators on the body that let the application understand the user’s size, contours, and spatial position. Because this is a very complex process that requires great precision, AI deep learning routines are utilized. AI-powered algorithms in virtual fitting room development are far more accurate than programs developed solely by humans. Once the user’s body’s dimensions and position are identified, a virtual item can be added to the screen, which tracks onto the body in 3D space.
Advantages & Disadvantages of Virtual Fitting Rooms
Virtual fitting rooms have certain advantages and disadvantages that should be explored. As an ever-evolving technology, one should note that virtual fitting rooms can only improve in proficiency as time goes on. Certain drawbacks may soon be eliminated as well.
Benefits of Virtual Fitting Rooms
Accessibility for customers to shop remotely is a tremendous advantage. Although e-commerce websites like Amazon already provide this, virtual fitting room technology enables customers to get closer to the experience they would have gotten if they had gone in-person to a store to try on an item. However, this is limited by how realistic AR rendering can be. If the customer is not immersed with the content, they are viewing, and they may turn away from the technology and the sale.
Achieving an acceptable level of realism is a task that developers and software engineers have been devoted to for years. As time goes on, the AR rendering that makes virtual fitting room technology possible will improve and become even more realistic. This may draw in even more customers and sales.
In combination with deep learning AI algorithms, video capture, and rendering precision will only increase, allowing virtual fitting rooms to estimate better and display a person’s body, face, hands, and feet. Once the technology reaches the point where it can substitute an in-person visit, virtual fitting rooms could replace brick and mortar stores.
Disadvantages of Virtual Fitting Rooms
Although the realism and precision of virtual fitting room technology is an issue, the advancement of AR and AI technology is set to resolve these issues as time goes by. Since replicating how an item would look while being worn by a person virtually is not perfect, customers can feel turned off by the sale. As it stands currently, most customers would prefer to use traditional methods to find items they need.
However, COVID-19’s disruption has presented an opportunity for this technology to come to the forefront. Since in-person experiences are more limited than before, customer tolerance of virtual fitting rooms is higher because it provides a safer option than an in-person visit.
COVID-19’s disruption will not last forever. Once it is safe for businesses to begin transitioning back to normal, in-person visits will be an option again. It remains to be seen whether virtual fitting rooms will remain relevant after the pandemic has subsided.
Finally, user data security is a significant issue. Biometric data, images, location information, are all gathered for the technology to work. By creating user profiles, this information could be used by other parties without the customer’s permission, presenting privacy risks.
COVID-19’s disruption of the retail industry is challenging. However, virtual fitting room technology has emerged as a major innovation out of that disruption. With greater adoption and investment in technology, it is set to continue improving in the coming years.
Virtual fitting room technology may grow to the point of outright replacing in-person dressing rooms. As the pandemic subsides, a significant portion of customers will most likely continue to use virtual fitting rooms.