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How are online fashion retailers staying innovative during COVID-19?

  • Co-written by Niamh Campbell & Lucy Desai

    Returning items purchased online has always been a pet peeve of - assumedly - everyone’s.

    Heading back into the high street shop you bought a garment from could seem inconvenient enough, but now re-packaging the items, searching for a return address and heading to the post office for some reason appears to be psychologically a lot more effort.

    This has since been exasperated again by social distancing measures in the current coronavirus crisis, so it is important that retailers can cater to customers during unprecedented times.

    Looking at recent research, free shipping is more important to a customer than fast delivery. Because free delivery is a common option for many online retailers, this results in increased sales — and increased returns.

    Interestingly, for retailers, it can cost double the amount for something to be returned than it does for delivery. And if returns are balancing orders, there’s going to be a problem for retailers.

    This article looks at different ways retailers are mitigating returns rates by helping you find the perfect garments, but also how they are staying relevant and standing out from their competitors as the fashion sector's sales dwindle amid the pandemic.

    Whether you’re searching for suits for men or women’s dresses, almost all clothes are modelled on a textbook body type — toned and trim.

    This is great, of course, if you have this body shape. However, for those who are considerably taller or a larger size, it’s impossible to envision what it would look like on yourself. Material may bunch or gape in unwanted areas, for example.

    ASOS’ ‘See My Fit’ is a new feature which uses augmented reality to digitally map what a piece of clothing would look like on a variety of different body shapes, ranging from sizes four to 18.

    This addition is the first of its kind in Europe and the online clothing retailer has also integrated a feature called ‘style match’ whereby customers can essentially image search for clothing they’ve seen, for example, in real life or on social media, scraping ASOS’ stock for similar clothing they have available. The same feature is becoming popular amongst multiple online retailers – Amazon for example, has a similar function called ‘StyleSnap’.

    In general, ASOS seems to be ahead of the curve when it comes to augmented reality. Last year Sync NI reported on the retailer’s ‘virtual catwalk’ where customers can point their smartphone camera at any suitable flat surface and click the ‘AR’ button on the product page in-app, and they will be able to view models as if they are walking in front of them, using tech from London-based HoloMe.

    The brand believes that in this way, you get a better sense of the clothing than you would from a static image.

    DIY Make-up Testing
    Popular make-up retailer, Sephora has also fused augmented reality in the beauty industry with Sephora Virtual Artist, which scans your face and lets you digitally apply numerous styles with different lipstick colours, eyeshadows, false eyelashes, and foundation colours.

    With it being difficult to gauge what colours can suit a user’s skin tone, this can be particularly useful in reducing returns.

    Virtual Fitting Room
    One expected popular trend in ecommerce in the coming years is the ability to virtually try products on with artificial intelligence (AI).

    Shoe manufacturer Nike is jumping on board with this already.

    By standing in front of a wall and pointing your phone camera at your feet, the Nike app will scan use AI to determine what size and shape your feet are, and the correct size in a specific shoe. The feature takes less than a minute Nike claims it has “precision within two millimetres.”

    This will come in especially handy for those who vary in shoe sizes – for example, you might be a size nine at one retailer or a 9.5 at another, resulting in purchasing several sizes for the perfect fit.

    Customised Shirts
    Charles Tyrwhitt Shirts is a men’s clothing brand that offers a range of shirts.

    With the ability to modify website filters, you can purchase a shirt to meet exact requirements; you can select style, fit, collar size and style, sleeve length, colour, pattern, weave, and fabric weight.

    You can also customise your shirts by selecting the cuff type, adding pockets and monograms.

    The inclusive and diverse selection makes it less likely you’ll return it when you’ve crafted it to meet your exact specifications.

    Digitalising your business and adapting to the public's needs

    The world has had to quickly adapt to new technologies in lockdown, but some companies were already equipped long ago and are even offering their tech services to help smaller retailers in such trying times.

    Digital video-tagging firm Smartzer is one such company. It transforms videos into interactive shopping experiences, allowing consumers to click items in a video to get information on them and purchase them without leaving the website or app that the video is embedded in.

    The "shoppable video experience" is designed to integrate with social media and also collects data analytics on consumer engagement.

    You’ve probably (unknowingly) come across their videos when scrolling through your Insta feed and they’ve worked with some of the world’s top brands, including Dior and Adidas.

    RELATED: London video shopping tech firm Smartzer opens new Belfast office, creating 16 new tech jobs

    Smartzer’s founder and CEO Karoline Gross said that the company “will be offering a free shoppable video to select small businesses, to help drive additional sales through digital channels.”

    With the fashion sector somewhat struggling in the pandemic – as people aren’t buying new clothes to go out in – tech tricks like these are welcome and innovative when it comes to standing out and improving customer experience. It isn’t all doom and gloom either.

    Although many ecommerce firms are reporting rapid declines in clothing sales, Boohoo said it had seen improved year-on-year growth of group sales during April, although it declined to give figures. The fashion merchant put its success down to increased sales in loungewear and customers buying ‘nice tops’ for Zoom calls.

    The world may seem bleak for fashion retailers currently, but where there is a will, there is always a digital marketing, and technologically innovative way.

    Sources: BBC News, The Verge, Elkfox

    Lucy Victoria Desai graduated from Northumbria University in BSc Psychology and then went on to study MSc International Marketing at Newcastle University. Lucy is currently a copywriter at digital marketing firm Mediaworks, creating high quality content across many diverse industries, with an interest in techology, psychology, and culture.

    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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