Reinventing Brick & Mortar Retail in the Era of AI
The rapidly evolving retail landscape is continually being shaped by innovative technology. The recent introduction of Google's Virtual Try-On tool in the US market - a powerful AI-powered innovation - presents an opportune moment to reflect on this evolution and anticipate what the future holds for physical stores. Simply put, this feature uses advanced Artificial Intelligence (AI) to virtually overlay garments on various models, allowing users to see how a piece of clothing might look on body types, skin tones, and hair types similar to their own. This groundbreaking application of AI transcends traditional online shopping limitations by providing an almost lifelike try-on experience.
Utilizing generative AI technology, Google's tool takes a single image of a garment and demonstrates how it would drape, fold, and form wrinkles on diverse real-life models in various poses. The models represent a range from sizes XXS to 4XL, encompassing a multitude of skin tones, body shapes, and hair types. The goal is to give online shoppers a more accurate representation of how a garment might look on them, thereby instilling a higher degree of confidence in their purchase decision. As of now, this tool is available to U.S. shoppers interested in women's tops from a variety of popular brands, including Anthropologie, Everlane, H&M, and LOFT. To access this feature, users need only to tap on products bearing the 'Try On' badge during their Google Search. Google has plans to scale this technology over time, expanding its reach to more brands and a broader range of clothing items. For instance, the availability of virtual try-on for men's tops is slated for a rollout later this year. At first glance, one might perceive such advancements as threats to physical stores. However, at Digital Innovation we firmly believe that within every challenge lies an opportunity. As consultants, our perspective is not to see this change as a battle between physical and digital stores, but rather an exciting chance for integration and adaptation and opportunities for new and more business. Physical stores are no longer just venues for transactions. They have metamorphosed into dynamic showrooms, physical representations of a brand's ethos, and most importantly, a tactile point of interaction that adds a sensory depth to the shopping journey. They are becoming less about inventory and more about experience. Yet, the question arises. How can physical retail spaces keep pace with their digital counterparts that continually expand their immersive shopping experiences? The key lies in harmonization. The physical and digital retail realms should not be viewed in isolation, but rather as interconnected parts of a unified whole. The concept of 'Create the Look and Try It in Store' can play a significant role here. By leveraging AI-driven virtual try-on features, customers can design their outfits online. But this digital journey can culminate in an inviting proposition - a physical try-on in a nearby store. Such an integration enables stores to function as experiential showrooms. While the online platform provides a broad canvas for exploration and customization, the physical store offers a space for final validation, where customers can experience the tactile pleasure of the fabric and the confidence of a perfect fit – experienced with all senses. In this transformative journey, personal styling services can enhance in-store experiences. Retailers can incorporate technology with the irreplaceable human touch of in-house stylists, offering a personalized shopping experience. This potent blend of technology and human expertise is a unique value proposition that can drive store visits and enhance customer loyalty. Another promising approach lies in leveraging physical stores for exclusive services such as alterations or made-to-measure options. This level of personalization, currently impossible to achieve online, can incentivize customers to visit stores and enjoy a personalized shopping experience that seamlessly blends digital convenience with physical authenticity. Reflecting on Google's virtual try-on feature, it's clear that diversity and inclusivity are critical in the retail industry. As a representation of the brand's values, physical stores must ensure they reflect this inclusivity, not just in the range of products they offer, but also in their in-store services and customer interactions.
The role of technology in enhancing physical retail spaces cannot be overstated. With AI and other digital advancements shaping the retail landscape, incorporating elements like digital kiosks in stores to check item availability or display online exclusive items can ensure a seamless and enjoyable shopping experience. While AI and digital advancements shape the future of retail, physical stores hold unique advantages that can complement and enhance these digital developments. The symbiotic relationship between online and offline experiences presents new opportunities for retailers to adapt, innovate, and continue to thrive in this fast-evolving retail landscape. The key lies in harnessing the strengths of both worlds to deliver a comprehensive, enjoyable, and memorable shopping journey. Brick-and-mortar is far from obsolete; it's simply evolving, and the future holds exciting possibilities. Image source: Google Blog