Companies across the apparel and beauty industries are increasingly turning to augmented reality (AR) to help consumers try different products from the comfort of their homes.
If you have ever used a Snapchat filter or played Pokémon Go, you’ve already used AR technology, which is simply the overlay of digital information onto the real world.
Among the first adopters of AR tools were personal care and beauty stores like Estée Lauder, Sephora, and Ulta Beauty. Ulta offers an app called GLAMlab for mobile devices that lets potential customers try on over 4,000 products that it carries in stores.
“Since the crisis began, guest engagement with the tool has increased nearly five times, and more than 30 million shades have been tested virtually,” said Ulta CEO Mary Dillon during an otherwise disappointing Q1 earnings call.
Cosmetics and clothing companies, which have relied heavily on in-person purchases and fitting rooms, have been among the hardest hit by the coronavirus. Those survive without bankruptcy or permanently closing may only weather the storm by pivoting quickly to new technologies and online sales.
Estée Lauder launched their virtual try-on tool last year, primarily for foundation shades and lip products. It has also installed iPads in stores so in-person customers don’t physically sample products.
In June, Chinese e-commerce company JD.com announced it was partnering with Sony to develop an AR tool that enabled users to measure their foot length virtually. JD.com has made more than 1,000 sneakers available through an AR feature earlier this year.
Meanwhile, clothing companies have tried their hand at virtual fitting rooms, working with start-ups like Zeekit. Zeekit’s app allows users to upload a full-body photo and mix and match garments from participating brands (Macy’s and Adidas among them).
Fashion company ASOS also worked with Zeekit to photograph models with a wide variety of body types to allow customers to view products digitally mapped onto them.
“I think it will surprise many Americans that, in 2020, this technology is quite sophisticated and shockingly accurate. This will result in the continued spike of e-commerce sales that we’ve seen throughout the pandemic.” Said Ben Parr, the president of marketing platform Octane AI.
Many in the industry hope consumers stick with virtual try-ons after the pandemic. The new model seems to have cut down on return rates for online apparel, which is usually a substantial cost for retailers.
On the other hand, privacy experts have raised concerns about how personal preference and biometric data could be used. They warn retailers can combine this with your geolocation data and browsing history for highly targeted marketing.
Patrick Van Eecke, a data protection and privacy lawyer at the DLA Piper law firm, told the Washington Post, “You think they’re taking your image and measuring your size, but the data being collected could be used for many different purposes. Once measured, once stored, it doesn’t easily fade away.”