AI is the New Black

Fashion Houses are Launching Tech Projects to Boost Sales and Improve Efficiencies

Bad lighting, grainy mirrors, absent sales clerks—shopping for clothes has never been a great experience. But fashion designers and retail juggernauts are looking to improve modern shopping by launching projects to infuse artificial intelligence (AI) into the buying process.

Rebecca Minkoff's eponymous stores in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, USA rolled out their latest AI-enabled project last year. Interactive mirrors let customers adjust lighting, select garments in additional sizes and colors (which a sales clerk delivers), and even save items to their online account for later consideration.

“The interactive mirrors provide ease in interacting with the sales associate from inside our fitting rooms, and through the touch-screen interface they can receive intelligent feedback and styling tips,” says co-founder and creative director Rebecca Minkoff, New York, New York, USA.

Alibaba spent nearly a decade on a project to develop a similar AI platform for retail stores. The first pilot store, a collaboration with Guess that opened in Hong Kong, China in July, featured interactive smart mirrors that suggest clothes based on trends, colors and sizes. The shop also merges a customer's internet data to recommend in-store clothing. In June, after a yearlong, invite-only test period, Amazon rolled out the Echo Look. The at-home device, which uses both machine learning and human fashion experts, captures a video or image of a person's outfit and evaluates the clothes based on color, styling and current trends.

But like fashion, technology evolves quickly. Fashion organizations looking to capitalize on novel tech will have to continually bet on new projects, even if ROI is uncertain.

“As our customers evolve, it is critical that we evolve with them,” said Guess CEO Victor Herrero in a press release. Guess plans to roll out a version of the pilot technology in its own stores, starting with mainland China and Hong Kong. “This is the future of retail, and we plan to continuously invest and adapt to our customers’ needs in this changing retail landscape.”

—Victor Herrero, Guess

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In Vogue

Fashion loves a trend. Here are some other technologies the industry is embracing.

1. Grab and go

Zara has turned to robots to fetch preordered items from stockrooms to speed up its in-store pickup system.

2. Home stylist

Startup Finery's wardrobe inventory system syncs with consumers’ online shopping habits to track purchases, upload them to Finery's app and create stylist-approved outfits.

3. Aerial view

At Milan Fashion Week last year, Dolce & Gabbana sent its latest handbags down the runway escorted by drones. It made a memorable statement but not without a few glitches: The show was delayed, possibly due to Wi-Fi interference from audience members’ phones.

Beyond AI, Ms. Minkoff has similarly invested in separate projects that explore the intersection of fashion and technology. She used virtual reality for a fashion week show, incorporated drones on the runway, and last year unveiled a digital payment system for online customers to buy products in the moment and pay later.

Her first foray into AI mirrors was in 2015. But what felt cutting edge even just a few years ago was in danger of becoming dated. Ms. Minkoff's company launched this latest AI project in 2017, implementing additional features into the fitting-room mirrors. One of the newest additions was the introduction of near-field communication. That allows customers to incorporate their phone into the process, such as by loading their online wish list or shopping cart.

Ms. Minkoff is already looking to the future. “As we continue to re-create our store as a full experiential shopping hub, the plans around technology continue to evolve,” she says. “We're looking to offer a feature where consumers can FaceTime their contacts through our smart mirrors.” —CJ Waity

—Rebecca Minkoff, left, New York, New York, USA

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