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A deep dive into the future of fashion and power of virtual in retail

A look at some of the retail innovations currently installed at The Drum's newly-launched tech space, CornerShop.

Retail has undoubtedly been one of the industries most affected by the pandemic. Retailers had to pivot quickly to sell their products online as high streets closed to accommodate hastily-introduced lockdown measures.

However, as the European summer provided some glimpse of normality with shops reopening, not all brands were able to restart as they intended – with news that Arcadia Group, Peacocks and Jaeger, among others, were due to close all their physical stores after going into administration. The physical deterioration of the high street led many to question what would remain and whether brands could keep up with the changing pace and demand of customers today.

The Drum launched its new live retail space, CornerShop, as an interactive solution for the industry. Aimed at providing retailers and brands with a space to explore, develop and test tomorrow’s shopping innovations today, the storefront – aptly named after the staple corner shop prominent in most neighborhoods – features a number of cross-platform experiences tailoring products and services to consumers.

The shop acts as an experimental space to try out new innovations within the sector using real consumer feedback to monitor what works, with the intention of piloting new inventions ahead of their commercial use.

We take a look at four of the key installations currently set up at The Labs that are pushing the retail sector forward.

1. Increased personalization

It’s no secret that customers are increasingly seeking tailored and more bespoke experiences as part of their shopping experiences. Upon entering the store, consumers are immediately served with product options that have been preselected based on their personal preferences and previous purchases. Consumers will also be able to control the artwork, music and lighting at select locations throughout the store via the app which tracks their movements as they move around the shop.

2. Voice-activated styling assistants

It can be hard picking out a pair of jeans and knowing which style will suit your shape. Thankfully, Amazon Fashion has created a virtual changing room to help consumers find the perfect pair of jeans by asking eight simple questions. The voice-led experience – which is available to try at The CornerShop – is guided by an Alexa voice-activated personal assistant who will help consumers buy wisely without having to tear through all the styles on the shop floor.

Of the Amazon experience, James Sparkes, creative director at Make's Associates – the team who installed this offering into the Labs – said, “From clothing to consumer electronics to car showrooms, voice user interfaces have the power to not only be a compelling and fun way to shop, but offer an exciting way to navigate a digitized product catalogue on a much more individual level. As the role of the store evolves, we see hybrid experiences such as ‘Discover Your Perfect Pair’ as an opportunity to re-invigorate the customer journey in more resilient and personalized ways.”

3. Virtual try on

In an era where no-one has time to spare time, least of all trying things that don’t fit properly, The CornerShop has sampled the concept of virtually trying clothes on. Using a combination of Bluetooth Proximity, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, this installation allows consumers to ‘try on’ an item without actually having to put it on their body. The technology recognizes the body and then superimposes the consumer’s head onto their desired piece of clothing. With a few sample styles available in store, customers can physically touch items to get a sense of how they feel while virtually trying them on to see what they look like to allow for a much more efficient shopping experience.

4. Circular fashion

The store also operates a circular fashion initiative, encouraging shoppers to drop their old clothes in store and exchange them for other second-hand items or store credit. Although many high street stores have already embraced this phenomenon, the tech in place at The CornerShop digitally assesses the quality of the clothes as they are entered into the system so that customers can swap them for something of similar value.

As the high street is largely set to change, it’s no surprise that marketers will have to weave in a combination of physical and digital practices to keep up with ever-changing consumer needs. These are just some of the latest innovations that might emerge in the retail sector in future. At present, these installations are very much in their guinea pig stage and need more interaction with consumers to get a sense of what works and where the tech can be improved.

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