According to Juniper Research, global retail spending on AI will grow to $7.3 billion per year by 2022, up by 5 billion, from an estimated $2 billion in 2018. Driven by the promise of improved margins, Juniper expects over 325,000 retailers to adopt AI technology.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been around for a while but it is only now that it is disrupting the fashion industry in a major way. Although it is a change that is still in its early days, we are witnessing how AI has the power to play a fundamental role in how we shop. It is doing so by dramatically shifting how we find and buy our purchases. Also, in the wake of the data boom, AI is giving the fashion industry the power to turn data into valuable information.
The Benefits of AI in Fashion
Still identified as an emerging technology, the conversation has moved away from “How does one define AI?” to “How can one scale AI?” The shift in conversation has resulted in high street brands like H&M and designers like Tommy Hilfiger investing in either algorithms or turning to AI-based start-ups so they can take the guesswork out of the fashion game.
One of the biggest benefits of using AI is the access to data. Brands are using information to suggest similar items a customer might like based on colour, style, and design. AI technology has also been playing a crucial role in the back of house by assisting fashion buyers when it comes to making sounder buying decisions. The technology is eliminating the pitfall of ordering too much, by effectively learning customer behaviour so fashion buyers are able to plan with better accuracy.
Another benefit is automation; AI can be a great asset when it comes to the completion of mundane tasks like data entry and calculations. The technology is allowing fashion companies to focus on more crucial matters like strategy. Then there is inventory. Managing it can be a big problem for retailers. Now machine learning algorithms are helping companies reduce forecasting errors by up to 50%, thanks to the ability of being able to make more accurate decisions.
AI is also tackling the problem of customer returns. According to Appriss Retail, preventable returns are totalling $300 billion every year, a reality that is gobbling up profits for online fashion businesses. The problem is that some brands and retailers are still using traditional methods based on historical sales data. With the help of AI this process could be a thing of the past because artificial intelligence has the capability to help customers make more informed purchase decisions. Also, AI can help increase customisation and improve communication.
The most exciting benefit of AI in fashion retail is computer vision. It is an extension of machine learning that allows for improved product discovery. For example, a customer can upload a photo and find out where they can purchase that (or similar) items. Tech forward shoppers are already experiencing this futuristic shopping perk thanks to Google Lens, an image recognition technology released in 2017 by Google. It allows shoppers to take a photo of a product with their phone, and then they are given suggestions of where they can purchase it, which they can do directly from their mobile.
Offline, the fashion industry is headed towards a future where every product will most likely have an RFID tag and gyro-sensors that determine how an item is being touched or moved. Also, smart mirrors are going to most likely become the norm. With plans to place them in changing rooms, customers will be able to use them to not only shop products in-store but also get style advice too. I foresee a future where the mirrors will also allow customers to try on clothes without bringing any clothes into the dressing; it will be shopping that is made possible through immersive technologies.
All is all, fashion AI is all about giving consumers (and fashion retailers) the kind of convenience we never thought possible. A very sci-fi idea, is an omnichannel integration that will allow fashion AI to be connected to an app, which contains your virtual wardrobe of clothes you tried on. Wouldn’t that be amazing. You will be able to continue to shop without actually being in the store.
Artificial Intelligence Fully Realised
When you take a birdseye view of the industry it’s quite apparent that AI’s potential is finally being fully realised by fashion businesses. We are seeing influential companies like the multinational, Alibaba Group, revolutionising the way we shop. Dedicated to the concept of ‘new retail’ Alibaba opened their first “FashionAI” store a couple of years ago with the objective, to simplify the shopping experience for customers.
Then there is a high street giant H&M. They have made no secret of the fact that they have been investing in the big data boom with the goal of being able to offer personalised recommendations to their online shoppers. They also plan to bring the technology offline too via RFID.
Another brand investing in AI is ASOS. The online highstreet company has integrated AI known as ‘Fit Assistant’ into their system. The technology is designed to assist customers in making informed buying decisions by using the database of the garment information and purchase histories to adjust the right fit correctly.
With the power to revolutionise, there is no denying the fact that AI is a technology capable of benefiting the fashion industry as a whole. It also makes it possible for brands, manufacturers and designers to adopt a more sustainable approach to their business practices, which is quickly becoming a prerequisite for companies. That being said, I do believe that the fashion industry still has a way to go before everyone is confidently on board.