Why You Need More Than a Virtual Try-on for Successful Sales

David Stepaniuk

Sep 15, 2021 • 10 min read
Virtual try-ons – a fancy technology or a key to successful sales

In real life, fitting rooms are the heart of the shopping experience. Changing clothes and accessories creates a level of intimacy between a brand and consumer.

With the advent of online shopping, retailers have embraced virtual try-ons to replicate this effect. In most cases, they have solved the number one shopping problem – "will it fit me?" but now they need to consider whether the solution fits their business.

From clothing and footwear to beauty products, retailers have embraced virtual try-ons to engage consumers and boost sales during the pandemic. The sophisticated AR and VR applications simulate in-store shopping and allow customers to visualize and interact with the item, creating an immersive and emotional experience. Experts are calling virtual try-on "the new frontier of online shopping" and a way to drive sales through the roof.

Except, virtual try-ons are not always brilliant and they are not the ultimate sales tool. In this article, I'll explain why.

What is a virtual try-on?

Virtual try-ons are solutions that allow customers to try on different products using augmented reality (AR). From sunglasses and clothing to shoes and lipsticks, consumers can now "try on" items they are interested in using their phone's camera.

There are different types of virtual try-ons:

  • In-store virtual fitting rooms use AR and AI technology to overlay items on top of the customer's live image so they can check the size, style, and fit of the product. They can come in the form of smart mirrors — also called digital mirrors or smart displays, they use AI, AR, and gesture recognition technology to superimpose clothing or face products on the customer’s image.
  • Mobile virtual try-ons allow customers to see themselves in a desired makeup or clothing item on their smartphone screen.
  • Desktop virtual try-ons plugins for e-commerce serve as virtual try-ons during online shopping. Customers use their own photo or a live webcam feed to see if the product fits them.

The goal is the same: to create a personalized, engaging experience, and help customers with their purchase decision — both online and in-store.

Since their first appearance, virtual try-ons have proved to bring a number of benefits, including:

  • Reduced returns

The rise of e-commerce has led to more product returns than ever before, making returns a billion-dollar challenge for retailers. This study shows that brands that offer virtual try-ons average 64% fewer returns compared to those that do not. Macy's reduced its return rate to less than 2% after introducing virtual fitting rooms last year. Shopify saw a 40% drop in returns last year thanks to visualizations using AR.

  • Increasing online sales

As online channels remain the first choice for many shoppers, virtual try-ons increase the likelihood to buy and spend more money on a product. 61% of online shoppers prefer to shop in stores that offer AR try-ons and visualizations than in stores that do not, and 71% of them would shop more often if AR were offered.

  • Boosting desire

With the more immersive nature of AR virtual try-ons, consumers are becoming more engaged in making purchases. Since 2020, retailers using AR have seen engagement rates increase by nearly 20%, with conversion rates increasing by 90% for consumers who engage with the AR.

  • Increased value for customers

45% of online shoppers find that AR helps them save time when making purchase decisions. Virtual try-ons take much of the guesswork out of "what a product will look like" and allow customers to experiment with sizes and colors, as well as learn more about product features.

The challenges of virtual try-ons

Of course, virtual try-ons have other benefits — reducing returns makes the business more sustainable and optimizes the cost of staff needed to service customers. In addition, businesses that use AR to provide immersive shopping experiences are considered "cool" and appeal especially to younger customers who are accustomed to shopping via their smartphones.

Such an approach can be both an advantage and a challenge. The playfulness of the AR experience can enhance the customer's sense of connection to the brand, but if it's not embedded in a larger sales ecosystem, it does not become a useful tool.

Another challenge is the technology itself. Early virtual try-ons were quite crude, resulting in a poor customer experience and product presentation, causing many brands to pull back from AR and VR experimentation. Today, they are more advanced but in return, they might require specific attributes such as:

  • High processing power
  • Organized cloud infrastructure
  • Newest hardware or software
  • Standardized lightning

Also, product models or the app themselves sometimes play in the “heavy weight” class, so users of older smartphones might have trouble with them.

What does “it fits me” mean?

Although virtual try-ons are getting more and more advanced in terms of technology, customers often wonder if the chosen product will really fit them — especially because the term “fit” can mean different things to different people.

The human body is not easy to map and successful 3D body scanning solutions are being introduced to the market just right now. Therefore, it can be difficult to choose the right size when trying on a virtual dress or jacket — especially considering that sizes vary from brand to brand and country to country, and not every person's body will fit into the "standard" S-M-L-XL options.

The size and fit-related returns impact the customer experience, the profitability of shopping platforms, and the environment. To tackle this issue, Zalando has introduced SizeFlags — a probabilistic binomial model based on large-scale data from their returns process. The goal was to provide customers with size advice. The algorithm launched in 2020, and it effectively reduced size-related returns.

Another issue is comfort — we cannot touch the material or feel it on our skin when we try it on virtually. It can be a guessing game — we will not really know if a garment will look good on us and if we would like to wear it. The color we choose may turn out to be a disappointment, and the style we like online may not work offline. For many customers, the physical touch is an essential part of shopping for clothes, and so far it is unattainable for VR to fulfill this need. The shopping experience is 3D, not flat.

Some customers may also have a psychological barrier to sharing their biometric data with AI and be reluctant to disclose sensitive information. They may also be concerned that try-on apps capture everything we see when we listen, so data security should be a focus for retailers.

Should you implement VR in your business?

Virtual try-ons are already transforming and challenging online and offline shopping. The key to success is not to embrace the technology itself, but to know why you want to use it. So the first questions executives should answer are what problem do they want to solve? and how will a virtual try-on help them meet their business goals?

No technology should exist in a vacuum. So before you decide to implement a virtual try-on app, think about your business strategy as a whole. Does an AR or VR solution fit into that strategy? Will it complement your existing ecosystem, enhance the online or offline experience? Will it bring the value you are seeking for? Or will it perhaps just be a funky gadget?

"A poorly orchestrated try-on could actually discourage a consumer instead of helping them make a purchase decision. What I've seen a lot of recently is people trying to utilize these new channels, but not really putting in the know-how and the expertise and the experience design side of things," said my colleague, Jinder Kang, in a recent episode of Disruption Talks.

I couldn't agree more. Before thinking about any new technology, think about how you are going to use it and what possible limitations you can encounter while implementing it. Technology is just a tool to achieve certain results, which means that a virtual try-on will not immediately lead to increased sales or greater customer satisfaction.

What’s next for virtual try-ons?

Virtual try-ons can be a great tool to enhance the consumer experience in-store and online if they are part of your holistic business strategy and fit into your business model. They have the chance to become a typical stop in every customer's journey, by letting them experiment and by helping to reduce moments of hesitation.

Like any technology, virtual try-ons should be a means to achieve a goal, not the ultimate goal. If you know how to use the tool, why you are using it, and where to place it in your service blueprint — it can actually boost your business. But if you just want another toy in your collection, you might want to invest your money elsewhere.

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David Stepaniuk

Disruption Forum Retail 2021