The way consumers shop for fashion online is about to change, write RMIT lecturer in fashion enterprise Rashmita Bardalai and associate dean of fashion enterprise Dr Stephen Wigley.
AI is going to be a revolution in fashion.
We’ve all gotten used to shopping online for clothing, but choosing what to buy still involves the classic fashion shopping behaviours of browsing, shortlisting and mulling over multiple same-but-different items – and often not finding exactly what we’re looking for, let alone buying it and trying it on. And then we have post-purchase regret, doubt and, more often than is good for business or the environment, returning unwanted clothes.
By adopting AI, retailers can use algorithms to align individual preferences with fashion trends and product information, curating recommendations tailored to each unique customer’s needs.
Before now, data needed to be input by people – a combination of fashion professionals, such as stylists and designers, and tech specialists managing the websites. Now, AI can automate the whole process, cutting costs and time to market by using visual detection and NFT chips to classify, describe and recommend products determined by individual customers’ body type, skin tone, their personal taste, the occasion being shopped for, and even the anticipated weather on the day of the event.
Retailers that fail to properly integrate this technology might simply never get their products onto shoppers’ shortlists. McKinsey’s State of Fashion 2022 report confirms that the operational potential of technology is becoming ever more apparent. They report, ‘fashion companies that now embed AI into their businesses models could see a 118 percent cumulative increase in cash flow by 2030. Conversely, those that are slower to invest in digital technology will lag behind—and could see a 23 percent relative decline.’
While machine learning and deep learning technologies do a lot of the work, the input of fashion professionals’ knowledge is still important in training the technology. Having relevant and appropriate product tags make or break a shopper’s online experience. Research shows shoppers are unlikely to keep using or revisit sites that return irrelevant to their keyword searches. They expect to be able to use highly trend-sensitive phrases or celebrity names. It is essential companies integrate AI learning with design trends, product characteristics, fabric properties and celebrity styles to generate the highly contemporary tags customers are searching for. The blend of creative, cultural and commercial knowledge that a human stylist can bring has to be ‘trained’ into a computer for its advice to feel spontaneous, unique and authentic online. Those who nail this confluence of fashion and technology will reap the rewards.
Okkular.io is one of several Australia tech start-ups specialising in the application of AI to fashion retail. They are collaborating with RMIT University to drive technological advancement, working with Bachelor of Fashion (Enterprise) students to explore automated product tagging and AI styling.
Students are creating data structures for Okkular.io’s AI technology, helping label fashion products across categories, sub-categories, attributes and tags to create holistic and contemporary product catalogues. They are also building in how human stylists put together outfits to provide Okkular with immediate, fashion-sensitive insight on how their AI stylist prototype may produce human-feeling suggestions to retailers using their technology.
AI has already subtly woven itself into many aspects of our lives. Yet many fashion retailers in Australia are unaware of the bottom-line potential for AI in their businesses.
By harnessing AI, retailers can deliver highly personalised experiences and also make data-driven decisions. Co-founder of Okkular.io, Mahendra Harish says, “Generative AI in fashion, creativity meeting innovation, will generate limitless possibilities by unlocking the future of automation.”
Of course, it will need to be implemented responsibly – with attention to privacy and ethical practices, and with respect for the highly social and human nature of fashion. But with the right blend of creativity and tech, AI in fashion retail can be a truly personalised and inclusive experience.