Virtual reality is redefining the concept of mobile commerce and mobile marketing – in particular, the consumer’s change room experience. This concept is certainly not transient and is set to be an increasingly dominant characteristic of mobile commerce into the future, in particular in terms of omnichannel retailing.
An omnichannel retail environment is one in which “customers shop through a variety of online and offline channels” in an integrated and streamlined manner (Bell, Gallino and Moreno, 2014, p. 45).
Retailers are embracing the omnichannel through the development of virtual try-on systems. This concept is especially important for products that require visual assessment, such as the colour of an eyeshadow or the way a pair of glasses look on a consumer’s face. Sephora and Warby Parker have recognised this issue and are solving it through the use of virtual reality systems (Bell et al., 2014).
Use of Virtual Try-On Systems in the Real World
Sephora has developed the concept of the ‘Virtual Artist’ which enables consumers to try on products, looks, and explore tutorials either via the web or mobile app (Sephora Pty Ltd, ND). This program is smoothly integrated into Sephora’s online store, enabling the consumer to purchase a product within the ‘Virtual Artist’ application or webpage if they like the way that the product looks on their face.
Similarly, Warby Parker allow their consumers to ‘try on’ glasses through their ‘Virtual Booth’ application (Bell et al., 2014).
Clothing is another industry that benefits from virtual try-on systems. Holte (2013) identified that clothing ordered online has an approximate returns rate of 25%. Consequently, costs increase for online retailers and consumers are left dissatisfied (Holte, 2013). This is ultimately due to the fact that the “…buyer cannot physically inspect the item” (Balter and Finkelstein, 2005, p. 17) Virtual try-on systems help to address this issue by enabling customers to try before they buy, from the comfort of their own computer, mobile device, or television (Holte, 2013).
This need has been recognised by key fashion retailers, such as GAP. GAP has recently released their pilot app, the ‘DressingRoom’, in collaboration with Google (Liberatore, 2017). This app allows customers to input their body type into the app to construct a digital mannequin (Liberatore, 2017). Their omnichannel retail offering is then enhanced as the customers will then be able to purchase the product via the app (Liberatore, 2017).
However, both Holte and Piotrowicz et al. (2013, 2017), identified that virtual try-on systems do not have to be limited to the home – they can be placed in-store through the use of ‘magic mirrors’. This contributes to the evolution of omnichannel retailing in incorporating a streamlined online and in-store virtual reality system.
Issues with Virtual Try-On Systems
Potential issues for the user lie predominantly within the software which constructs an ‘avatar’ of the consumer. Consumers often do not have the sophisticated technology to create precise size calculations that can be achieved through depth sensing cameras (Zugara Inc., 2016). Hence, the products tried on virtually may not actually be a perfect fit, such as a lipstick may not align with a consumer’s lips or a top may fit the customer as a size 8 in virtual reality, however, in truth it fits as a size 10. This limits their ability to adequately evaluate the product.
In an online environment, there are tactile elements that are yet to be articulated through virtual reality software, such as the feel of fabrics (Tamarjan, 2012). This once again limits the consumer in making educated purchasing decisions.
It is important to note that virtual try-on apps have not been adopted as significantly as those retailers that embraced them in the past, as many of their apps are now non-existent. This holds true for Debenhams who trialled this technology in 2011 (Whitelocks, 2011). A spokesperson for Debenhams at the time stated that this technology could become “mainstream in the future” but this has not been the case (Whitelocks, 2011).
It is also imperative to consider this – do virtual try-on systems actually add value to bricks and mortar stores? Zugara (2016) identified that it is indeed “new and different”, however they raise the issue as to whether or not it actually adds to the consumer experience. Tamarjan (2012) also highlighted this issue, stating that consumers will wonder why they should use a virtual system when they can try items on in an existing dressing room.
Hence, the question remains as to whether it would be a worth investment to implement virtual try-on systems within bricks and mortar retail outlets and whether the technology truly adds value to the at-home shopping experience.
Balter, C., & Finkelstein, B. (2005). United States of America Patent No. US 6,901,379 B1. Retrieved from https://www.google.com/patents/US6901379
Bell, D. R., Gallino, S., & Moreno, A. (2014). How to Win in an Omnichannel World. MIT Sloan Management Review , 45-53. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/openview/282df26d8afbab2bc159b4edd7b972ea/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=26142
Holte, M. B. (2013). The Virtual Dressing Room: A Perspective on Recent Developments. International Conference on Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality, 241-250. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-642-39420-1_26
Liberatore, S. (2017, January 5). Is this the end of dressing rooms? Gap reveals app that lets you virtually try on clothes without leaving home. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-4089338/Gap-reveals-new-app-lets-virtually-try-clothes-home.html
Sephora Pty Ltd. (ND). Sephora Virtual Artist . Retrieved from https://sephoravirtualartist.com/landing_4.0.php?country=US&lang=en&x=
Tamarjan, D. (2012, February 4). Virtual Dressing Rooms: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Retrieved from http://augmentedtomorrow.com/virtual-dressing-rooms-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/2/
Whitelocks, S. (2011, November 2). Virtual changing rooms hit the high street: Debenhams first to trial new technology. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2055719/Virtual-changing-rooms-hit-high-street-Debenhams-trial-new-technology.html
Zugara Ltd. (2016, December 8). Augmented Reality “3D Virtual Fitting Rooms” — The Good & The Bad. Retrieved from http://zugara.com/augmented-reality-3d-virtual-fitting-rooms-the-good-the-bad