Drapers reviews the advancements in technology that shook up the fashion retail industry in 2017.
Virtual reality marketing
Retailers embraced virtual reality in store in a big way this year, creating memorable experiences for customers with innovative marketing campaigns. Oasis and Topshop led the way, combining virtual reality and Instagram-friendly photo opportunities to drive footfall.
To mark the launch of its collaboration with London Zoo owner ZSL (Zoological Society London) in August, Oasis gave customers the chance to go on a virtual safari ride. Customers donned a VR headset and perched in a model jeep to get up close with lions, zebras, and other animals that the charity helps to protect.
Topshop flagship store in Oxford Circus is known for its theatrical displays and the retailer’s virtual reality waterslide in May was no different. Shoppers were invited to sit on a giant inflatable slide at the front of the store and were sent on a virtual water slide ride around the sights of Oxford Street. As virtual reality continues to move into the mainstream, expect to see more retailers following suit.
A wave of retailers began to experiment with visual search this year in a bid to make finding the right product online an easier, quicker journey for customers. In August, Asos launched a visual search tool that allows shoppers on its app to find products similar to ones they have already seen by taking a photo of the item or an uploading a photo from their camera roll. Urban Outfitters and shopping-centre owner Hammerson have both incorporated the function into their mobile apps.
Retailers are hoping visual search will help customers navigate the vast array of products on offer online more easily. Asos digital director product director Andy Berks described visual search as a more ‘natural’ process for customers.
The return of QR codes
QR codes caused quite the stir when they first came on to the market in the early 1990s, but were later widely abandoned by UK retailers and consumers alike. However, Apple’s iOS 11 mobile operating system, released in September, includes a native QR code reader which re-sparked interest in the technology. Yoox Net-A-Porter Group (YNAP) is in the process of developing QR codes for the windows of its partners’ physical stores. When an item’s QR code is scanned, users will automatically be taken to an ecommerce site, where they can buy the items immediately. Cath Kidston also experimented with QR codes in an in-store experience in September.
Although not new, retailers stepped up their use of artificial intelligence (AI) in 2017. Shop Direct launched an AI-powered “natural language” version of its customer service chatbot with the MyVery app. The conversational user interface (CUI) can answer 32 different types of customer query and is able to recognise more than 400 written phrases.
YNAP is developing a virtual personal stylist able to recommend different products for various occasions, weather and locations. Alex Alexander, chief innovation officer at YNAP, argued the stylist will be a unique selling point for the luxury powerhouse because it will use “knowledge that we have learned through years of putting outfits together.”
Elsewhere, Levi’s unveiled its Virtual Stylist in October, which can be accessed through its website or Facebook and helps customers find the right fit and style, as well as showing them styling options.
Facial recognition technology
It might not have made an impact just yet but following reports in December that Facebook is experimenting with facial recognition technology to improve in-store shopping experiences, we could see this develop in 2018.
Mobile facial recognition has the potential to link to cameras in shops, allowing for retailers to target specific products at certain peopled based on the data from their Facebook profile. Payments could even be made via facial recognition at the till.