Try Before You Buy – Virtually

Clothes buying, both in-store and online, is set to change with help from interactive and virtual assistants. Interactive mirrors, virtual changing rooms, a personalised fitting service and a mobile app all aim to help consumers find the clothes and the look they want more easily. They may also reduce costs for online retailers and help them reach new customers.

What is changing?

Virtual changing rooms are coming to a store near you soon. In May, Topshop launched a new range of dresses and a virtual changing room in its flagship Moscow store to help customers try clothes on, without getting changed. The virtual changing room uses a combination of augmented reality and motion sensors, like those in the Kinect gaming console, to superimpose the dress – back and front- onto the consumer’s image in the mirror.   Macy’s are also experimenting with a Magic fitting room, and recorded 16,000 separate outfits being tried on in a six week period.

The Chief Executive of a marketing company recently demonstrated Swivel, the company’s virtual changing room on stage at a conference. The system allowed her to see how various handbags and a pearl necklace looked with the black dress she was wearing. The bags and pearls also stayed in place on her virtual image, as she moved and turned.

But it is not just in-store where the technology is helping: online shopping is getting a helping hand too. Divalicious, an app for Apple devices, aims to help shoppers pick and mix items and outfits from over 300 brands in one place. Shoppers upload a full body image of themselves and then ‘try on’ the clothes and accessories from any brand in the selection list. If they decide to buy, the app links them through to the appropriate store.  Upcload, produced by a German company, similarly relies on a full body image which is done at home, using a webcam, with the shopper holding a standard sized object such as a DVD so that the system can determine their exact measurements. Then, using a database of over 100,000 body shapes and sizes the system recommends clothes, items, outfits and sizes that should fit well.

Why is this important?

The technology is in its infancy, but could change the face of shopping forever.

Trying on clothes can be more entertaining, and may encourage shoppers to try more or different kinds of outfits. Reluctant shoppers, for whom trying on clothes, or even clothes shopping per se,  is not particularly enjoyable, may be encouraged in, using the technology as a pre-screen to reduce the effort needed for ‘real’ trying on.  Retailers will be able to keep track of what is being tried on and bought- or not, and tailor inventory and promotions accordingly.

Online shopping continues to grow fast, but the hassle factor remains high for clothes shopping: at present some 50% of clothing purchases are returned because the fit is wrong. These virtual technologies could reduce those costs for retailers, who increasingly have to carry the returns cost, while also increasing the willingness of consumers to buy online. The convenience of bringing together access to many brands in one place is likely to create a cumulative increase in sales. If accurate body measurements are also available, clothes can be more accurately tailored to groups of or even individual customers.

If such systems are then linked to 3D printers, one off designs of accessories can be made and delivered in almost the same time as a standard product, either in-store or remotely. Linked to TVs, these technologies could create more exotic and dynamic surroundings than just a static mirror, so that the virtual fashion show or catwalk becomes a reality; the virtual fashion party may be the next stay home entertainment.

Online shopping is forecast to continue to grow strongly, outstripping mainstream retail sales growth, reaching about $248 billion in the US and about $156 billion in Western Europe, according to one forecast.  The new technologies could enable mainstream retailers to fight back, but may also enable online retailers to get even further ahead. They may also enable greater cross border sales where sizing differences might previously have been an issue.

By Sheila Moorcroft

About the author

Sheila has over 20 years experience helping clients capitalise on change – identifying changes in their business environment, assessing the implications and responding effectively to them. As Research Director at Shaping Tomorrow she has completed many futures projects on topics as diverse as health care, telecommunications, innovation management, and premium products for clients in the public and private sectors. Sheila also writes a weekly Trend Alert to highlight changes that might affect a wide range of organisations.

  • saumier

    Hi Sheila.  I was wondering why you headlined your article with an image from My Virtual Model but do not mention us anywhere in your article.  Full disclosure I am the general manager at MVM (  We have solutions for online retailers that enable shoppers to create their own avatar and try-on items to make outfits.  You can also upload a photo of your face to make your virtual model look like you.  

    In my opinion the idea of getting an exact size recommendation using measurements has not yet been proven to work in a scalable fashion, and should be seen as only part of the solution to improve the shopping experience.  I would venture to say that sizing is a less urgent problem to solve than others, and there is the current work around of free shipping. Retailers wanting to grow online sales are more interested in money multipliers than cost cutters.  With less than 10% of sales online there is tremendous room for growth.

    Which technologies should a retailer choose?  Women love to shop by outfit. Yet there are very few tools that enable mix & match.  Most e-commerce sites are product oriented rather then consumer oriented and present a confusing labyrinth of product pages.  I think we will see more visual outfitting tools come onto the market as retailers seek to boost conversion and average order value.

    Lets talk a bit about My Virtual Model.  Visualizing outfits can go a long way to improving the shopping experience.  And even better than visualizing outfits is seeing the outfit on your body shape.  Ask any personal shopper and they will tell you that certain styles of garments are better suited on some  body shapes versus others.  The same blouse can look great on one person, and not so good on another body shape.  Showing outfits on an avatar that resembles the shopper’s body shape is a great way to boost the confidence of the customer, leading to higher sales (and also fewer returns.) And unlike the holy grail of sizing, the technology to create outfits and personalize avatar body shapes is here today.

  • Anonymous

    Dear Saumier, I am the publishing editor and IM and I am fully responsible or choosing My Virtual Model as an example for this piece. The credit does appear when you scroll over the  image. Thank you for sharing more information about My Virtual Model and please feel free to contact me by email ([email protected]) if you have any questions or concerns. Best wishes, Amelia

  • Nimish Thaker

    Hi Shiela, nice article this. My organization is also working on similar technology for retailers in India. However, one of the challenges we see is in the area of getting exact size recommendation, this is going to be a challenge in the times to come. The whole benefit of a Virtual Dressing room is that you can select multiple clothing items / accessories fairly quickly. This will also be a great tool for mix and match items.