Fashion Gets Personal

Technology Trends

The first wave of Digital stylists are already here, you may have used one: Thread, Stitch Fix, Trunk Club are just a few. Anyone who’s filled out what they look like and what they wear on one of these will tell you how fun they are, but nobody’s really letting these websites dictate their wardrobe just yet! These virtual style advisors feel too much like marketing emails and the recommendations are just head-to-toe retail mannequins aimed at selling us stuff.

If you’ve encountered one you’ve probably experienced one of these stereotypes:

  • A virtual simulation of the high-end, in-store shopping experience. 
  • A personal stylist who knows what you like and what you’ll look good in. 
  •  A tool for lazy men who don’t like shopping.

At their core, they all have something to offer, but none of these are accurate and perhaps only the third is truly convincing. It’s time for something better. There’s a big place in the market for style advice, more than ever we want to look a certain way and will pay good money to do so. The challenge is matching a compelling User Experience with a business model that works. There’s going to be a new way to shop, and somebody’s going to change the game. 

As with anything these days the enablers will be big data, AI and personalisation. But we don’t need an algorithm pretending to be a real-life stylist, we need some good AI, making honest suggestions and humbly learning from what we’ve liked and disliked. We’re ready to be our own stylists; all we need from retailers are the clothes.

AI-curated recommendations are the new norm. My Dad downloaded Spotify and it trawled his iTunes to make daily and weekly mixes. He’s never created a playlist or even searched for a song, he just listens to his mixes and skips what he doesn’t like. “I’m not bothering with any of that, it knows what I’m about” he told me at the weekend. It does, and it gets better every time he uses it and he loves it!

Amazon doesn’t even wait for you to decide; while you’re debating needs and wants, pre-shipping has already assessed your purchase and browsing history and sent a link. All this preference and behaviour data is mounting up in to a kind of personal big data, and there’s a race to see who can make the best use it.

The last piece in the puzzle will be how to pay for it. Without a business model to justify the investment and support the returns we’ll be stuck with what we have now. Facebook, Instagram and News organisations have shown us people don’t like paying for curated feeds, at least not with cash, so don’t expect subscriptions to take off. Instead we’ll probably see the data’s value decide the winner – Imagine if you had access to all the items someone had ever bought, what they’ve been looking at lately and what they’ve been looking at for ages, what time of the day, week or month they usually treat themselves and what they’re prepared to spend, all down at the individual level.  Now imagine you’re the only company that has all this data, and think about how much people would pay you for access to it.

If you’re interested in how AI is picking up steam in the fashion retail space check out Nat’s blog: Help Me AI, What Should I Wear?

Joe Chamberlain

Consultant