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Why retail is betting on virtual try-on for growth

Virtual try-on technologies are having a moment in retail this year. Interest with our clients is off-the-charts and adoption is growing everywhere.

It all started with augmented reality mirrors and apps reshaping the way beauty consumers discover and try on products in the past five years. Now, fashion and accessories brands are finally subscribing to virtual try-on in a variety of ways with the hope of driving engagement, increasing sales and fighting back returns.  

Some of the most recent examples include Nike’s try-on shoe app launched this past May. It measures the shape, size and volume of feet in order to recommend to people the best size to buy in the sneakers they’re interested in. According to the brand, the accuracy is within two millimeters and the whole process takes less than a minute.

Gucci followed suit a month later with a try-on that enables users of its app to see the Ace Sneakers on their feet in real-time. Shoppers can look at the shoes from different angles, and take pics to share on social media. This pilot is powered by one of Current Global’s core technology partners, Wannaby – a Belarus-based startup that specializes in “augmented commerce”.

In the eyewear category, Ace & Tate launched a feature on its website where users can see what they look like in its sunglasses on screen. Michael Kors has also done this via Facebook. 

And in hard luxury, an experiential pop-up from Richemont in New York, called Arcadium, features a virtual try-on experience by Jaeger-LeCoultre that allows shoppers to try styles by placing a ‘marker’ bracelet on their wrist. 

So why is so much of this happening now? Three reasons:

1- Growing consumer expectations:  Virtual try-on was born in the cosmetics space – cutting its teeth with brands like L’Oréal through to Sephora. It gained ground as shoppers got used to the idea of being able to see their faces with all manner of filters on thanks to the realism on social apps including Snapchat and Instagram. What was once a tech-generated value that consumers took a while to understand, is now perceived as a right that is extending to footwear and eyewear. 

E-commerce is evolving to serve a time-stretched and more demanding shopper that is used to having everything they want at their fingertips. Included in that is the ability to see what something will look like specifically for them, before they hit purchase. It’s utilitarian. 

2- The tech has evolved: Behind this trend is the fact the technology has caught up to the expectation. It’s now smarter, more realistic and affordable. Five years ago, the artificial intelligence and augmented reality that was needed to provide realistic mapping to the human face or body, just wasn’t there. Many good teams tried and failed – mostly because market demand wasn’t enough to fund their growth. 

3- Reducing returns: The value of returned goods will rise from $350 billion in 2017 to $550 billion by 2020 in the US, according to forecasts from Happy Returns. A contributing factor to this worrisome growth is customers opting to shop from home instead of in-store. During our work sourcing solution partners for various retailers, we’ve observed virtual try-on solutions consistently delivering positive results – from a 20% increase in basket-size for Sunglass Hut to 120% increase in engagement in a brand app. The upside for brands lies primarily in driving conversions while reducing return rates since the more likely a product is right, the more likely the individual will both buy it and keep it. 

The human body, and the ability for virtual try-on of full clothing, has been developed in chapters. The challenge is to develop accurate visualization and mapping. We have dozens of tech partners with algorithms from the US to Eastern Europe to China that have accurately learned the face, flat feet (high-heels try-on is still in the works), and now are focused on the variations of consumers hands and ears. 

As accessory and footwear brands race to catch up on AR, it’s safe to say the next vertical to jump on board is sure to be jewelry. Tech companies are racing to develop realistic capabilities in that sector to establish themselves as category owners.

What about ready-to-wear? The technology is quite impressive and is already here, with two startups leading the way on mobile and in-store. But the high cost of the tech at the present moment has prevented widespread adoption. As the space moves fast with growing adoption of AR in consumer shopping behavior globally, we expect virtual try-on to be a staple in the corporate innovation toolbox for all retailers keeping up with the digital age. 

How are you thinking about virtual try-on? The Current Global is a transformation consultancy driving growth within fashion, luxury and retail. Our mission is to solve challenges and facilitate change. We are thinkers and builders delivering innovative solutions and experiences. Get in touch to learn more. 

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product Retail technology

Ulta and Cosmopolitan team up with Perfect Corp. on virtual try-on at CES 2019

Beauty retailer Ulta and Cosmopolitan magazine are working with beauty software company Perfect Corp. to give consumers virtual try-on experiences, as announced at CES 2019 in Las Vegas this week.

Using Perfect Corp.’s YouCam app, Ulta customers will be able to virtually try on hair colors with the help of an in-store associate as part of its salon service.

“Our partnership with YouCam will give us insight about how augmented reality experiences can complement the services we offer in Ulta Beauty stores,” says Prama Bhatt, Ulta’s svp of digital and ecommerce at Ulta. “This represents a nice merging of physical, digital and emotional experiences.”

Meanwhile, Cosmopolitan is continuing its partnership with YouCam after introducing an AR feature to its print magazines last September where consumers could scan an image of a beauty product to virtually try it on, and proceed to purchase on Macys.com.

“My goal is to deepen the connection between Cosmo and its readers by constantly making our content more responsive to what they’re craving right now,” said Cosmopolitan’s editor in chief, Jessica Pels. “Because of who our audience is — Millennials holding the magazine in one hand and their phone in the other — that means bringing interactivity to our pages through projects like our partnership with YouCam, which brings a virtual try-on experience right into our pages.”

At the show, Perfect Corp. also introduced Beauty 3.0, a new suite of products that includes AI product recommendation and finders, as well as skin diagnostics and the aforementioned hair color matching tool.

How are you thinking about innovation? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners for your innovation strategy. TheCurrent is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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Retail technology

GU showcase store introduces personalized avatars for virtual try-on

GU Style Studio
GU Style Studio

Fast Retailing’s GU, is connecting online and offline retail with a new store in Tokyo’s Harajuku district, that allows shoppers to see sample products in real-life and then try them on using virtual tools.

The GU Style Studio, as it’s called, is designed to showcase garments and provide a sense of convenience by enabling customer to then order them through their mobile phones for delivery at home later.

Visitors are encouraged to create their own digital avatar through a photo taken at the GU Style Creator Stand, then scan QR codes on individual items via the GU Style Creator App to see how they would look wearing each piece. They can then continue to play with a combination of different looks digitally while they move through the store.

According to Osamu Yunoki, GU’s chief executive officer, a benefit from this technology is the data collected from shoppers at the store. Yunoki told Bloomberg that information on app usage and styling combinations can help GU learn more about how people shop and what’s in style.

After purchasing items, customers can choose to have them shipped to their home, or they can pick them up at a nearby GU store or designated 7-11 location. GU has almost 400 stores across Asia, primarily in Japan, Taiwan and China.

GU Style Studio
GU Style Studio

“We’re fusing the in-store experience and e-commerce to offer a fun and convenient experience. Harajuku isn’t just for shopping. It’s also a place where fashion is created. We’d like to use our customer’s creations as a stimulus for developing new types of fashion,” he said.

It’s not the first time Fast Retailing, Asia’s biggest clothing retailer, and also the parent company of Uniqlo, has chosen GU as a testbed for new technology: it was the first brand in the portfolio to introduce RFID tags and self-checkout back in 2015. Two years later, Fast Retailing announced they would be using the technology in 3,000 Uniqlo stores worldwide.

The industry is increasingly seeing examples of more seamless shopping opportunities – from unmanned stores, to overtly interactive ones. This idea of walking out empty-handed, meanwhile, combines the idea of a convenient shopping experience, while encouraging customers to share more data.

How are you thinking about retail innovation? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners to do so. TheCurrent is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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Retail technology

CoverGirl’s new tech-enabled flagship focuses on discovery and personalization

Covergirl
CoverGirl

Makeup brand CoverGirl’s new Times Square store in New York is encouraging shoppers to immerse themselves in an experiential playground with tech-enabled experiences that include a virtual greeter and AR glam stations.

The store, which is the first under the brand’s new “I am what I make up” philosophy, is designed to be a shared beauty experience, where consumers are encouraged to discover, try on and express themselves through makeup in several different ways.

“We can’t wait to open our doors to the public and let our fellow CoverGirls in to play and to ‘make up’ what CoverGirl means to them,” says Coty’s Consumer Beauty CMO Ukonwa Ojo. “The CoverGirl flagship represents this incredible moment in beauty – where rich experiences matter most and where true self-expression and experimentation are the only beauty standards.”

Upon entering the store, customers are greeted by Olivia, an AI virtual greeter powered by Google’s Dialogflow that can answer questions, share beauty trends or simply direct customers to their desired products. A try-on station allows shoppers to pick up a lipstick or eyeshadow from a tray and have it automatically overlaid onto their faces via augmented reality mirrors, similar to Coty’s Bourjois boutique that opened in Paris earlier this year; to provide the personalization that consumers crave, another station allows them to customize a lipstick and/or makeup bag; lastly, in-store staff, or CoverGirl BFFs, will be on hand to provide advice, tricks and recommendations.

The store’s design has also been developed with the young beauty consumer in mind, with every corner providing a selfie-ready backdrop that allows shoppers to share their looks and shopping experiences.

Being that the new flagship is at one of the world’s busiest areas for footfall, it will be open daily from 10am until midnight.

Increasingly, beauty brands are deploying augmented reality to further engage with a consumer who is prone for interaction. Beyond Coty’s new Bourjois and CoverGirl stores, this year L’Oréal also announced the introduction of digital beauty assistants that use AR to show consumers looks via video on the NYX app.

How are you thinking about retail innovation? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners to do so. TheCurrent is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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Campaigns e-commerce technology

Cosmopolitan adds shoppable virtual try-on to print mag

Cosmopolitan
Cosmopolitan

Cosmopolitan magazine is adding a shoppable virtual try-on capability to its print issues that will enable readers to experiment with beauty looks and then buy them via Macy’s.

The feature is being launched in partnership with the US department store, which is also rolling out the technology in store.

A Cosmo reader must download selfie camera app YouCam and scan specific cosmetics featured on the magazine, to then be able to superimpose looks on their faces. The looks are then shoppable via Macy’s online.

The move comes off the back of research that shows 73% of readers want to be able to try on products featured in the magazine virtually, Cosmopolitan publisher Donna Lagani notes. She also mentions that the average millennial takes around four selfies a week.

The new feature launches in partnership with Macy’s in the magazine’s October issue, with new looks rolling out every month thereafter.

Cosmopolitan has increasingly developed tools to bridge the gap between its print issues and the digital sphere, in order to engage with its young, mobile-savvy audience. In 2015, it became Snapchat’s partner when the social media app launched the Discover feature promoting content such as Live Stories to immense success. At the time, its Discover stories were shared up to 1.2m times a day, while receiving on average 3m views overall.

The move also comes heavily off the back of huge growth in augmented reality beauty try-on from brands across the industry. Most notably is the recent acquisition of startup Modiface by L’Oréal. Being able to experiment with different make-up in a virtual sense is becoming increasingly commonplace as a result.

How are you thinking about digital engagement? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners for your innovation strategy. TheCurrent is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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Editor's pick technology

Cannes Lions 2018: L’Oréal announces AR-enabled, live-streamed digital beauty assistants

L'Oréal's Lubomira Rochet
L’Oréal’s Lubomira Rochet

L’Oréal shoppers will soon be able to interact with beauty assistants via live video chat enhanced with a layer of augmented reality, as demonstrated at this year’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

Launching later this year, the experience means that shoppers using L’Oréal-owned beauty brand NYX’s app, will be able to book live streamed sessions with in-store assistants and receive a one-to-one service similar to what they would get at a physical beauty counter.

AR in this case will enable the assistants to show customers what make-up, such as lipstick or eyeshadow, would look like on their face and recommend products accordingly. That is made possible thanks to the acquisition of AR startup Modiface earlier this year, and is a first indication of what else will follow from the partnership.

Speaking on stage with Modiface founder, Parham Aarabi, L’Oréal’s chief digital officer Lubomira Rochet, said: “What we are doing with those technologies is to really mimic and recreate this really personal relationship you have with a beauty assistant at the counter. She looks at you, understands you, has more (makeup) experience. You get into a really personal conversation so you can have a really personalized recommendation. This is exactly what we want to do with our AR experience.”

Within the experience consumers will be able to purchase products and book upcoming appointments. The service is expected to be rolled out in 65 countries and to other L’Oréal-owned beauty brands, following the launch with NYX.

L’Oréal AR digital assistant experience

In a further conversation on stage with YouTube CEO, Susan Wojcicki, Rochet added that the acquisition of Modiface, which is the group’s first in the tech field, was a strategic one as the company truly believes AR and artificial intelligence are the future of the industry.

Rochet also expanded on how a customer-centric strategy is informing everything that the company does – from the aforementioned digital assistant experience, to understanding how beauty fanatics consume content online. This insight informs everything from R&D through to communications accordingly, she explained.

Paying close attention to searches and comments on YouTube videos, for instance, helps better understand what the potential customer’s concerns and beauty goals are when developing product, while from a communications perspective, social listening allows L’Oréal to tailor its language to better relate to how its audience already speaks about its products.

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e-commerce Retail technology

Target introduces AR and text-to-chat beauty concierge service

Beauty Concierge at Target

Target is upping its beauty game with a focus on personalized experiences through a series of digitally-enabled features both in-store and at the customer’s home.

The so-called Target Beauty Studio is a partnership between the US retailer and Perfect Corp.’s YouCam Makeup software, which allows users to virtually try on hundreds of makeup items using augmented reality on Target.com (desktop and mobile).

Meanwhile, the experience is also being trialled at 10 select stores across the country, with further roll out plans later this year. The feature is reminiscent of what many beauty brands such as Sephora and Bourjois have been doing in the try-on space in a bid to offer shopper more tools for discoverability and decision-making both on and offline.

Target virtual try-on powered by YouCam
Target virtual try-on powered by YouCam

“When it comes to shopping beauty, our guests love to explore,” said Christina Hennington, senior vice president of beauty and essentials at Target. “With the introduction of these new initiatives, which blend physical and digital to create an enhanced experience, we’re giving Target’s guests even more convenient options to find the perfect beauty items for their unique needs.”

Tapping into its younger consumer’s peer-to-peer messaging behaviour, Target is also introducing a text-to-get beauty advice service that will enable consumers to chat to Beauty Concierge representatives both on Target.com and via SMS. On the website users can click a ‘chat’ icon to type their questions and receive answers in real time, while on mobile users can text “BeautyChat” to a dedicated number to receive a response.

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e-commerce Editor's pick Retail Startups technology

Amazon exploring the future of sizing with 3D body scanning trial

Body Labs 3D scan
Body Labs 3D scan

Amazon is currently inviting people to have their bodies 3D scanned at its NYC offices, hinting at the e-commerce giant’s future plans of entering the virtual try-on and personalized fit space.

According to The Wall Street Journal, participants are being asked to return every two weeks to have their bodies scanned over the course of 20 weeks. They are also being asked to answer a series of fitness and health questions, and complete an online survey that determines weight-related loss and goals in the past year. The survey reads: “We are interested in understanding how bodies change shape over time.”

The project comes from Amazon’s new 3D body scanning unit, and is assumed to tie to a broader aim of improving the fit of clothing sold online – one of the industry’s greatest challenges. It comes after Amazon paid a reported $100m+ to acquire Body Labs, a startup that creates 3D body models to support B2B software applications, back in October 2017.

At the time TechCrunch reported that Body Labs’ website, which is currently down, demonstrated how its API could be used to “accurately predict and measure the 3D shape of your customers using just a single image”, which in turn could be used to power custom apparel or be used by fashion e-commerce retailers.

Over the past couple of years Amazon has been making aggressive moves towards the fashion category, both from a hardware, service and merchandise perspective.

In April 2017, it released the Echo Look, a device that uses a camera to help users keep track of their outfits and receive style advice. Its try-before-you-buy Prime Wardrobe service, launched last summer, is also now open to consumers beyond the Prime membership and is due to launch imminently.

The retailer has so far developed over 50 in-house apparel labels for women, men and children, showing that there is virtually no corner of the apparel industry that it doesn’t have covered.

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Editor's pick Retail technology

Bourjois unveils virtual try-on triggered by physical products

Bourjois Magic Mirror
Bourjois Magic Mirror

Coty-owned makeup brand Bourjois has unveiled a new smart mirror experience that enables shoppers to virtually try on make-up simply by picking up a cosmetic product in store.

Available at the brand’s newly relaunched boutique in Paris, the blended reality mirror is said to be an industry first as it integrates physical product – in this case makeup – with the augmented reality experience happening on the screen.

Shoppers can, for instance, pick up a lipstick and the chosen colour will instantly appear on their lips via the smart screen. The connected screen currently features the ‘pick up’ experience with the Rouge Velvet lipstick collection, and shoppers can then complete the digital look via onscreen eye make-up and blush, which is matched to their individual skin tones.

“As part of our desire to reinvent the retail experience through purposeful and personalized innovation, the Bourjois Magic Mirror represents the most extensive integration of physical products and digital content in the beauty industry,” said Elodie Levy, Coty’s global digital innovation senior director.

“Most women intuitively prefer to play with a lipstick rather than touch a screen, as there is an inherent sensual aspect in cosmetics packaging that no technology can replace, and our new Magic Mirror provides this desired experience to shoppers.”

Coty’s innovation comes from research that shows that 72% of consumers want an in-store beauty experience to be a mixture of both physical and digital elements in order to feel more ‘believable’. Moreover, the company believes virtual product try-on solves other retail-related issues such as testers not being available, as well as general hygiene concerns.

To create this experience, Coty worked with London-based digital studio Holition and retail marketing experts Perch. Holition is also responsible for Charlotte Tilbury’s in-store smart mirror, as well as Rimmel London’s makeup filters on Facebook Stories, but what differs in the Bourjois experience from other mirrors, however, is that it is customizable by product, as opposed to previous mirrors that focus on looks. Holition’s FACE software also allows skin tones to be analysed, thus providing a more personalized experience.

The experience is complemented by NY-based Perch’s expertise in the mirror’s form and function, where the smart camera monitors a defined area for activity, and automatically triggers visual content.

On the future of in-store marketing, Perch Interactive CEO Trevor Sumner says it is about blending digital experiences naturally into the shopper journey. “The Bourjois Magic Mirror uses computer vision to sense the most important indication of interest in physical retail – when a shopper touches a product – unlocking an experience that encourages natural pathways of discovery, education and engagement.”

Tapping into the digitally-connected beauty shopper’s need for peer engagement, the mirror also offers three playful filters and a feature that takes selfies, which can either be printed in-store or sent to the customer via email, which links to purchase all trialled items at Bourjois’ online channel.

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Editor's pick Podcast technology

L’Oréal on creating personalized touchpoints through beauty tech

L'Oréal's Guive Balooch and Rachel Arthur
L’Oréal’s Guive Balooch and Rachel Arthur

L’Oréal is on a mission to marry technology and beauty in order to enhance their customer’s lives, says Guive Balooch, global vice president of L’Oréal’s Tech Incubator on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast, hosted at SXSW 2018.

At the core of that purpose is the team Balooch runs, which works as an R&D lab for beauty tech. “When we started about five years ago, our goal was to make sure we could find the link between personalization and technology and find a way to get consumers the right product for them,” he explains.

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Since its inception, the team has developed products such as a connected hairbrush, a UV sensor worn on the nail, the first example of an augmented reality make-up app, and most recently, an on-demand system called Custom D.O.S.E. for SkinCeuticals, which dispenses serum personalized to the customer’s skin needs in under a few minutes.

Technologies such as AI and machine learning have conditioned consumers to become more demanding than ever in finding products and experiences that are relevant to them on a granular level, Balooch explains. But if you look at the beauty market today, off the shelf products simply cannot respond to the plethora of demands that individuals have, he suggests, especially when looking at skintones. This is where a product like Lancôme’s Le Teint Particulier comes in, in which consumers have a consultation that includes a skintone scan before generating a tailor made foundation for them.

L'Oréal's My UV Patch
L’Oréal’s My UV Patch

That’s something consumers have been demanding for some time, but the tech and science until recently has just not been possible, Balooch explains. Today we’re at a real inflection point however, meaning customization is only going to get better.

As is the case with all of L’Oréal’s beauty tech launches, the goal is to enable brands under the group’s umbrella to target consumers at a one-to-one level, removing any frustrations that arise during the shopping experience, while allowing beauty associates to focus on the human side of the interaction. For Balooch, this innovation mindset will push new or long-established beauty products to start adapting to change, thus becoming smarter over time. This means evolving the experience they offer the customer by leveraging more individual data, encouraging co-creation, and even coaching consumers themselves to become smarter about how to use their products.

“In 10 years time there’s no question to me that every person will have the ability to have the perfect product for them. I think that there will be much more co-creation – that we’re moving towards an era where the people are becoming the companies,” he notes.

Beyond developing a made-for-me final product, attributes of efficacy and seamlessness are always top of mind when launching new connected technologies, from the production process to the design of the hardware and software itself, Balooch says. When partaking in the D.O.S.E experience with SkinCeuticals, for instance, consumers are able to watch as the machine prepares their personalized serum from beginning to end. This not only helps create an emotional experience for the recipient, but does a good job at communicating the process in a transparent way.

For L’Oréal, that marriage between design and technology is key for customer-facing experiences. “Design is not just a secondary piece of what we do today with technology. [It] can actually fuel the tech itself,” says Balooch, who believes for an integrated experience, technology needs to be both beautiful and warm. The future, he believes, is a balance between such creative and engineering teams.

Catch up with all of our episodes of TheCurrent Innovators here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by TheCurrent, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.