Is Mass Adoption of Virtual Try-On Tech the Future of Retail?

Photo of David Stepaniuk

David Stepaniuk

Updated Jun 19, 2023 • 11 min read
woman using a virtual try-on solution

While virtual try-on technology is nothing new, the rising popularity of online shopping and the pandemic have fueled demand.

At Netguru, we’ve had a great interest in virtual try-on tech (VTO) for some time now, and it’s something we’ve explored through our Disruption Talks live streams. We wanted to take it one step further and enlisted our UX Research Team to examine 14 virtual try-on solutions from popular brands like Ray-Ban, Gucci, Pandora, and Charlotte Tilbury.

The findings? None of the solutions were totally flawless and had varying levels of success and usability. Our report, "Virtual Try-On: Game Changer or Hype?" explores our findings in more detail.

We invited Agata Rączewska (UX Practice Expert), Lukasz Borowski (Senior UX Researcher), and Grzegorz Mrukwa (Staff Engineering Manager of Data Science) to join a LinkedIn Live session to discuss it.

What is virtual try-on technology?

Virtual try-on technology is a solution that allows customers to virtually try on different products using augmented reality (AR). The technology has been around for several years, particularly in the clothing, spectacles, and cosmetics spaces.

It’s a convenient solution for those who would rather not or cannot visit the stores in person. However, the technology can be very hit-or-miss and has the potential to make or break the customer experience.

Why we decided to investigate virtual try-on solutions

The main reason brands are exploring virtual try-on capabilities is because users are curious about it. It’s a fun and engaging way to shop online, so that’s why we decided to investigate it in more detail.

From Grzegorz’s perspective, he is most interested in the machine learning and data side. He explains that VTOs are a composition of different computer vision solutions, and they can vary a lot depending on the user’s expectations.

"We propose completely different components when we target luxury shops in 60 FPS and 4k because that has pretty high expectations in terms of the performance itself,"

– he states. "Completely different components are selected for mobile users when we need to deal with seriously limited computing power."

There are two main elements to creating successful VTOs — where to put the item you’re trying on and actually placing that item in the image. In some cases, these two steps are merged into one, for example, with makeup and clothes, because it provides more realism.

What’s in virtual try-on for the retailers?

Developing successful VTOs is a complex and costly process — so why should retailers care?

Agata explains that companies that offer VTOs provide greater customer experience, more personalization, and higher customer engagement. This is just the “tip of the iceberg,” though.

Not only do brands get to place themselves as the market leader and provide the “wow effect” for customers, it also opens up more opportunities to explore.

Grzegorz explains that try-ons could be shared with friends, and brands could gather data on which products are tried on with each other. One potential feature he believes is underestimated is what he calls “steal the look of your friend.” This could be combined with product recognition, so you upload a photo of someone’s outfit, for example, get to try it on yourself, and then buy that look.

This would mean no more wasted time searching for that specific item. You could just buy the look directly.

Łukasz thinks this also has the potential to become a collaborative experience with friends. Rather than going to shops together, you could try on products virtually and use a live chat to comment on each other’s choices.

Where virtual try-ons face issues

Łukasz explains that we focused on four categories – eyewear, jewelry, shoes, and cosmetics in our research.

The testing consisted of UX audits, usability testing, and user interviews. UX audits were conducted on ten different brands. User interviews and usability tests were on 18 users across four different brands and four product categories.

We categorized the UX and UI issues into three stages:

  • Minor: Issues that need fixing but don’t disturb the user experience as a whole.
  • Major: Issues that must be addressed as they damage the system or business goals.
  • Critical: Severe issues that break the usability of the platform and must be addressed as a priority.

We found there were seven common issues with virtual try-on solutions across different brands

Technical problems preventing the use of virtual try-on

Some examples, such as Ray-Ban struggled to launch the virtual fitting room, and on the Charlotte Tilbury website, we had trouble allowing camera access.

General usability issues

One issue we faced was that the logo kept appearing on the user’s face in Charlotte Tilbury’s VTO. It was difficult to switch colors. Another one was F. Hinds which we found tricky to switch between items.

Problems with the visualization

We found that Ray-Ban kept showing glasses too high on the face in the visualization itself. The quality of the visualization was also below expectations with Wanna Kicks. Another issue was that with F. Hinds, it was unclear whether the product was the right size.

Limited try-on options for multiple products

For those looking to try on more than one product, we found this impossible on Charlotte Tilbury’s website and F. Hinds.

Products unavailable for virtual try-on

There are some limitations on the F. Hinds and Charlotte Tilbury websites because not all products or shades were available to try on.

Look comparison and sharing

When it comes to comparing different products, this is difficult with Ray-Ban’s or F. Hinds’ stores. It also isn’t possible at Charlotte Tilbury.

Overall shopping experience

When customers want to actually purchase the product, they’ll likely run into issues at Wanna Kicks, which had faulty buttons, different prices, no information about promotions or availability. This could be a huge hit to the overall shopping experience and encourage people to shop elsewhere.

Why are brands struggling with virtual try-on solutions?

Grzegorz explains that there are several reasons why brands struggle with virtual try-ons:

  • Lighting issues: Without sufficient lighting, this can affect how realistic the experience is.
  • Limited mobile computing capabilities can’t always handle VTOs.
  • Dedicated neural processors are still limited compared to high-end computers.
  • Stabilization and light adjustment are important for realism but can affect speed.
  • Turning weaknesses into strengths

It’s clear that there’s a lot of work to be done to improve virtual try-on tech, and there are good reasons to do so.

Agata explains that brands can be more transparent and openly communicate what’s available as a VTO and what’s not. Another simple way to improve things is to thoroughly test the solution to pick up any issues before customers do.

In many cases, problems are easily avoidable by clearly labeling features or offering instructions.

What virtual try-on tech means for accessibility

At first glance, virtual try-on solutions seem perfect for making the shopping experience more accessible. For those users who can’t visit a store, being able to try on a product at home is ideal. However, they need to function properly to be truly accessible, and poorly designed VTOs can end up having the opposite effect.

Agata believes that while there’s huge potential, there’s still a lot of work to do to make VTOs more accessible.

"It's a wonderful potential that I think companies could really explore," — she says.

"When it comes to accessibility of the virtual try-on solutions themselves, I think this is a bit of uncharted territory."

Agata continues: "While basic accessibility rules that we would apply for websites could apply there, I haven't seen this being researched. I haven't seen this being tested."

How far away are we from mass adoption of virtual try-ons?

Łukasz highlights that in some spaces, we’re already there. The main one is spectacles and sunglasses. A lot of brands that offer prescription glasses now offer a virtual try-on option on their website. However, the same cannot yet be said about other sectors. "It depends on the category because there are categories that are more difficult to implement and those that are less difficult to implement,"

- Łukasz says.

Agata emphasizes that there’s huge potential, but it’s a matter of timing as much as anything else. VTOs were starting to gain traction ten years ago but somehow didn’t catch on. Now, the world looks very different, VTOs could be making a comeback in some ways.

"The world changed so much in the past three years. That creates challenges but also opportunities and virtual try-on is an answer to some of those challenges."

"It has a chance of happening, and it's worth looking into."

For Grzegorz, it depends. He says there are already plug-and-play VTO solutions for Shopify, for example, and that these are cost-effective solutions.

However, if you really want to transform the user experience, you will need to answer a few tough questions first. For example, should we focus on realism but exclude users of mobile or older devices? Should we buy a generic VTO solution or build one ourselves?

“If you want to drive the experience beyond just selling the product, I see no other option than actually investing in virtual try-on solutions,"

– Grzegorz advises. "Maybe not building it in-house, but with a technological partner. It may be based on an existing solution rather than built from scratch. If you want to be perceived as a leader, you do not want to offer a solution that is very generic, and for example, makes your shoes look like plastic."

Grzegorz says that brands that want to invest in VTOs really need to look at their capacity in terms of computing power and how far they’re willing to go to build solutions for their specific needs.

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David Stepaniuk

Former Senior Innovation Consultant at Netguru

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