Augmented reality fashion: 4 ways it’s influencing people’s wardrobes

By Cristina Ferrandez

According to recent statistics, customers are buying more clothes online than ever. However, for retailers, increased sales don’t always translate into sustainable top-line growth. One reason for that is that online clothes shopping has a big problem: returns. Research shows that e-commerce apparel returns can range anywhere between 50% to 80% compared to in-store return rates of just 5% to 15%. That’s a big difference — and is something that can seriously damage the profitability of online fashion brands. 

The rate of online returns in the fashion industry is so bad that in 2019, Forbes called it “an epidemic.” This was before the COVID-19 pandemic entered the scene and sparked an increase in online shopping. Since then, retailers have had to handle an even higher volume of returns. But they’ve also had to deal with customers who are hesitant to buy online in the first place. According to one study, since the pandemic started, 40% of consumers have held back from shopping online as a result of complicated returns processes. 

One potential solution to this problem comes from augmented reality (AR), a technology that enhances parts of the physical world with computer-generated elements. Already popular across a range of industries, from travel and food to automotive and furniture, AR is changing the way that customers shop online. Three-quarters of customers now expect retailers to offer an AR experience, with brands that have invested in 3D and AR technology seeing a 40% decrease in returns and a 66% increase in customer engagement. 

Thanks to its virtual try-on capabilities and fun social media effects, AR is clearly on track to redefine the fashion sector. Eyeglasses, hat, jewellery, and shoe retailers are already empowering their customers to visualise their products with AR and 3D before purchase. And even though body tracking is less advanced than face tracking, many clothing and fashion retailers are beginning to use AR and 3D to showcase their products. 

Here are four ways fashion brands can make AR and 3D a part of their wider strategy. 

1. Visualise fashion items in 3D

Asos’ “See My Fit” AR tool lets you see how a product would look on a model with a similar body to yours
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Full-body tracking has come a long way, but it’s not quite “there” just yet. For this reason, many fashion retailers are holding back on incorporating AR visualisation into their full-body product lines. Instead, brands are creating graphical representations of their items to allow customers to view them in 3D. 

With 3D technology, customers can see products up close and even place them in their environment for further inspection. Because they can zoom in or out and rotate items, they can get a better idea of what a product really looks and feels like and are unlikely to miss intricate details that make it stand out. It’s no coincidence that the ability to view products in 3D increases conversions by up to 250%

Brands can incorporate 3D functionality through a screen in-store, a mobile app, or a web-based effect. 

For example, when the global fashion brand Rebecca Minkoff, which specialises in handbags, added 3D models and AR functionality onto its product pages, it observed a noticeable increase in online shoppers’ buying confidence. The ability to see the handbags up close and in front of them meant that customers felt a deeper connection to the products and, as a result, were more likely to buy them — considerably so. Customers who interacted with 3D models were 50% more prone to add the product to their cart while viewing a product in AR brought this figure up to 70%. 

The online fashion and cosmetic retailer Asos did something a little different. As an alternative to allowing users to try on clothing virtually, Asos gives customers the option of seeing how a particular item looks on various models of different heights and sizes via a simulated view. Known as “See My Fit,” this new AR tool makes it easier for customers to figure out whether an item will suit them based on the size, fit, and cut of each garment.

2. Visualise fashion products with augmented reality

augmented reality fashion
At selected Speedo stores, customers can “try on” swimming goggles without actually having to put them on
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While full-body tracking technology is still in development, face tracking technology is already highly advanced. For brands, this means it is already possible to allow customers to virtually try on certain fashion products, such as glasses and hats, on top of their body and around their face. 

Brands typically provide this functionality through a mobile app. In this case, customers place their phone in front of their face to see a product appear on their upper body. For example, Poplar Studio recently collaborated with eBay to let site users virtually try on sunglasses before buying them. Shoppers could “put on” various different sunglasses to get a better idea of which styles suited them best, even moving their heads up and down and to each side to see themselves from all angles. 

However, retailers can achieve the same experience through a web-based effect or even a virtual mirror in-store. Showing how AR can work in-store, Poplar Studio worked with the swimwear and swimming accessories brand Speedo to make the often cumbersome process of finding the right swimming goggles easier on both customers and staff. The web-based and in-store AR experience we created gave customers the option of “trying on” 35 different pairs of goggles, which not only made the shopping experience more intuitive but also helped decrease returns. 

While AR try-ons are certainly more common for upper body fashion items, sellers of lower-body products, like shoes, are incorporating this technology too. Not too long ago, the Italian luxury fashion house Gucci partnered with Snapchat to launch an AR shoe try-on campaign. Users could see how they would look wearing four different pairs of sneakers and buy them directly from the app. This campaign reached almost 20 million people and led to a positive return on advertising spend. 

3. Delight customers with AR social filters

augmented reality fashion
H&M released AR filters on Instagram that allowed shoppers to create their own promotional videos
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For brands that would simply like to run an engaging and fun campaign on social media, branded AR filters can be an easy way to gain traction. 

For example, the jewellery company Missoma ran an Instagram AR campaign around their Kaleidoscope Summer collection, working with Poplar Studio to create an entertaining and shareable filter that turns everything kaleidoscopic. 

Similarly, to celebrate the launch of its 90s streetwear-inspired collection promoted by British singer Mabel and others in a music video titled “Bad Behavior,” H&M released six AR filters on Instagram that let users create their own versions of the video to share with friends. 

4. Attract shoppers with in-store effects

augmented reality fashion
At Zara stores, customers could use their smartphones to see virtual models presenting the latest collection
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Innovative AR experiences are not restricted to online shops. Retailers can also use in-store AR experiences to both drive traffic to brick-and-mortar stores and delight shoppers once they are there. 

One such experience could involve customers going on virtual treasure hunts that would take them through the store in search of “easter eggs” (AR image trackers such as posters that users can scan and augment). Another could include mini-games to help keep shoppers and children entertained while waiting in line to use the fitting rooms or pay for their items at the till. 

For stores that have limited space or are awaiting the arrival of new fashion pieces, AR could help overcome stock issues. 

For example, retailers could use in-store AR effects to allow customers to visualise products in the store using their smartphones, even if these products are not currently available offline. If customers like these products, they could put in their order online or at the till to be collected or mailed to them at a future date. In times of COVID-19, this may be preferable to some customers anyways as it gives them the option of engaging with products virtually rather than physically. 

In 2018, Zara kept its store windows and in-store podiums in the US empty, prompting shoppers to download its app to see AR versions of models presenting the current collection instead. Customers could order all looks at the touch of a button via the app. It is easy to see how something like this could entertain customers today while also making them feel safer than if they were to handle physical clothes. 

Augmented reality fashion is not a passing trend

Augmented reality fashion is set to change the way that brands and retailers do business. While AR is particularly useful in helping shoppers decide whether a specific garment or accessory will suit them, thus reducing returns, the technology has plenty of other use cases and is not limited to online stores. Plenty of high-street and luxury brands have already experimented with AR in their physical stores, enriching the shopping experience and enhancing brand recognition. 

Yet despite the obvious benefits of augmented reality fashion, only 1% of retailers currently use AR, with more than 50% saying that they’re simply not prepared to integrate the technology into their shop. That is understandable. Getting on top of things like 3D modelling and photography — the necessary components of AR — can be a real challenge, especially if you’re not sure where to start. The good news is that, with the right partner, integrating augmented reality into your infrastructure is actually easier than you think. 

Ready to discuss how you can take advantage of augmented reality fashion for your business? Get in touch with Poplar Studio today.