More retailers are incorporating avatars into the online shopping experience to help shoppers determine their best fit. According to early findings, it not only helps them to buy smarter, but it also results in them staying longer on shopping pages and encourages repeat purchasing. In addition, it could alleviate the problem of growing retail returns, which is harming the planet and businesses.
Retail returns jumped to an average of 17% in 2021 versus 11% a year prior, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation and Appriss Retail. That adds up to more than $761 billion of merchandise that retailers wound up returning to stores and warehouses. The trend is expected to rise again in 2022, resulting in a larger headache for retailers.
The reasons for returns are multiple, including shoppers buying various sizes, often because the size charts of different brands can be drastically different. There are also emerging consumer habits driving the trend, including serial returning or wardrobing, in which shoppers return more than they keep or they wear items with tags and return them. These factors, alongside staffing issues across retail and the widespread move to online shopping driven by the pandemic, mean that retailers are struggling to keep up with the products they’re getting back.
However, the main reason for returns is poor fit. Even with correct sizing, customers are unable to see if the clothing they order online is going to match their body shape. Fit technology and interactive experiences are two emerging solutions. They help customers with fit by engaging them in an interactive experience, where they’re shown a realistic avatar representation of themselves that they can dress up. Depending on the software program used, customers can take a photo of themselves and adjust their measurements once the avatar model has been loaded, or they simply input their measurements.
Stefan Hauswiesner, CEO and co-founder of Reactive Reality, a software that enables people to try-on clothes on a personalized avatar, is one of many who has been working to bring Cher Horowitz’s virtual wardrobe from “Clueless” into reality. Founded in 2014, the company has made great leaps in developing interactive fit technology. For example, it worked with Yoox Net-a-Porter to develop the YooxMirror AI over the course of three years.
Talking about the technology that allows users style avatars with their own measurements, Hausweisner said, “We see different behavior from people. They like mixing and matching clothes and accessories, seeing how pieces go together. This is one of the biggest drivers [of sales], even before seeing it on your body. Consumers then shop more often and they make better purchasing decisions.” As the idea of avatars and metaverses moves from gaming to real-world applications, this technology is finally finding its way to the shopping experience.
Bods, a fit technology company that has worked with luxury brand Khaite, is showing that technology gaming tools like Unreal Engine can also extend to the luxury shopping experience. The company’s program, which was integrated into the Khaite website, uses immersive real-time technology to allow online shoppers to virtually try-on apparel, accessories and even full looks on a fully customizable digital version of themselves. Users are even able to see color maps on their models where brand items might not fit as well, making for a more informed decision when shopping.
“We found that we increased the session duration for everyone that used Bods by 93%. We also found that everyone that used Bods, on average, visited 5-6 more product pages than people who are not using it.” said founder Christine Marzano. “They were interacting with more of the products, they were creating outfits, and they were looking at more pieces than they would have normally. We increased the cart size for Khaite by 11%.”
However, at the moment, fit programs using advanced technology like Bods and Reactive Reality are not widely implemented by brands. With recent moves toward the metaverse by fashion brands, many are already digitizing their inventory in anticipation of the changing consumer experience. In addition, industry leaders like Amazon are currently working on digitization technology like body mapping and virtual dressing to help brands embrace the move to digital inventory in the near future.