What do I wear today?
Remember the talking magic mirror in the fairy tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves? The mirror would faithfully tell the queen who was the fairest in the land. What if such a mirror becomes part of your bedroom and answers even more profound questions—like, what do I wear today? Or then tells you who would be wearing what to the college reunion party this evening? Or then assists you to shop by bringing you the best deals and latest fashion trends from around the world.
As fanciful as all this sounds, it will soon be reality. Technology companies, e-tailers and retailers in India and across the world are now testing various technologies that could make these experiences real in the coming decade.
At a recent event in Mumbai, Future group chairman Kishore Biyani, who revolutionized modern retail in India, spoke about a probable scenario from the future in which the retailer would be able to tell you what your friends would be wearing to a party that you are hosting. Further, as you shop with the retailer, it could also solve an even bigger dilemma, by recommending what to wear for the occasion.
This conversation with the brick-and-mortar retailer will be through a virtual assistant, à la Apple Inc.’s Siri or Amazon.com Inc.’s Alexa. It could be taking place anywhere in its stores, at your home, through the internet or the smartphone. The virtual assistant will be powered by artificial intelligence and combine inputs from various sources like your Facebook and Instagram networks and search and browsing history while responding to your queries in real time.
Globally, Amazon is already test-piloting a similar concept where the fashion-conscious can buy the e-tailer’s Echo Look for $200. According to a review on CNet, Echo Look is a voice-controlled selfie camera powered by its virtual assistant Alexa, which reviews your clothes, offers fashion advice and even makes suggestions on what to wear if you submit two pictures.
Data and privacy concerns aside, as more and more people communicate through social media networks such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, the emphasis on appearance and presentation has increased. And so has the ability of marketers to tap into their customers’ lives and know about their lifestyle.
On average, connected Indians, or those with access to the internet, spend about three hours online, according to Rajan Anandan, managing director, Google India. Additionally, for e-tailers and retailers, it’s no longer about online or offline, but about how the two worlds can come together to present a uniform consumer experience. Alibaba calls it “new retail”, whereas for Biyani it is “blended commerce”.
So, stores of the future will be tech-enabled with features like automatic customer recognition at the store entrance, automatic checkouts, customized deals at point of purchase and digital mirrors that allow you to try endless sizes, colours and styles virtually. Some of these features can also be experienced from the comfort of your home.
E-tailers and retailers are also using machine learning, artificial intelligence and big data to meet unmet consumer needs and trends. At online fashion retailer Myntra, for instance, engineers and machines now tell designers how to make clothes. The firm’s rapid tech platform analyses sales data from group websites such as Jabong and Flipkart. The latest fashion trends are also collected by trawling Instagram, Pinterest and fashion magazines to come up with a list of popular attributes—colour, sleeves, collar and cuts on the basis of which it has automated design.
These software-designed brands are among its fastest growing brands. The e-tailer now plans to use the technology to design clothes for some of its clients that include the largest apparel brands in the world. “This is a business with a potential of over billion dollars,” says Ambarish Kenghe, chief product officer of Myntra.
Even designer duo Falguni and Shane Peacock are using IBM Corp.’s cognitive tool Watson to predict the future of Bollywood fashion.
An AI-based approach for demand projection could reduce forecasting errors by up to 50%, while overall inventory reductions of 20-50% are feasible, according to The State of Fashion 2018 report by McKinsey and Co. and The Business of Fashion.
The job of dictating and dissecting fashion trends has so far been limited to a privileged few—trend forecasters, critics and experts who scour the global catwalks, popular bars and restaurants to spot the latest trends.
Fashion’s elusiveness has been captured in the 2009 documentary The September Issue when the legendary Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour said, “People are frightened of fashion, because it scares them or makes them feel insecure; they put it down.” However, this may no longer be true. Technology is democratizing that by giving access to everyone. Moreover, the fact that we now live in an ever more demanding society wanting everything here and now, is changing every business including fashion.
To be sure, dependence on technology and data is not new. Fast fashion retailers like Inditex SA, parent of Zara and Hennes and Mauritz (H&M) use technology extensively to get new clothes into its stores across the world within a matter of weeks.
What’s new is the integration of artificial intelligence and fashion? How this will play out, or to what extent will it be successful, is yet to be seen. All the same, the possibility of conversing with an object and asking vain questions is already real.
Shop Talk will take a weekly look at consumer trends, behaviour and insights.
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