Fashion has always reflected the culture at large, and that’s just as true in the time of emerging technologies. Between virtual garments, gamified shopping experiences, and artificial intelligence-powered websites, brands on the cutting edge of tech are poised to reshape the fashion world as we know it—and digital designers should take note, too.
Today, a brand’s success depends on how quickly it can keep up with all the mediums—AI, AR, VR, and web2, and web3—competing for our eyeballs and attention. Artificial intelligence and data-driven business models are helping brands offer personalized services for every shopper, enhancing the brand experience and, ultimately increasing sales. Brands are adopting omnichannel approaches—including better eCommerce experiences and unique digital activations—that are essential in capturing new audiences, especially younger shoppers.
As digital technology and the opportunities they offer continue to evolve at breakneck speed, the best brands will adapt with them. “The next generation of shoppers will be much more comfortable with making purchases via virtual engagements,” says Christie Shin, associate professor and the coordinator of creative technology & design at the Fashion Institute of Technology. “Fashion brands that do not take online strategies seriously will not be a part of the future of fashion.”
Fashion sites Bertand, Comico 21, and Wiggy's, built on Editor X.
Reimagine your site’s eCommerce experience
Recent eCommerce trends echo Shin’s prediction. Online shopping isn’t new, but it's big. Six out of every ten shopping journeys begin online, according to Think with Google, an online resource of digital trends and marketing data. This is why a brand’s website requires more care and innovation than ever.
“Too often, eCommerce retailers treat their sites as a static entity—but they require innovation, consideration, and curation,” says Allegra Poschmann, design director of Pact, a creative studio that works with brands like Glossier and Nike.
Poschmann suggests up-leveling the standard ‘you may also like’ grid with a more personal ‘pairs well with’ feature, or bundling commonly purchased items together, which both cuts down user decision fatigue and maximizes average order value (AOV), adding, “quality is more important than quantity when thinking through bundling.”
Create avenues for customer connection
Glossier, the poster child for millennial pink and a DTC beauty behemoth, now sold in Sephora, was an early adopter of this customer-centric approach. Founder Emily Weiss described the strategy as “emotional commerce.” Referring to the brand’s focus on building a shopping platform that forged a strong brand identity, voice, and user trust, while limiting product choice, Weiss described it as building “a breadth of connection, and not a breadth of product.”
The brand was one of the first to introduce web features that made it easier and more intuitive to purchase products that are a tough sell online. It introduced a shade finder that helps users find the right foundation by uploading a selfie (now commonplace—Rare Beauty offers 48 shades to choose from in its shade finder).
The brand’s physical stores were oriented toward online connection, too. They weren’t just shops. They were Instagram-friendly immersive experience centers, with mirrors that read affirmations like “you look good” beckoning visitors to post their IRL experience online and create user-generated content.
Now, Glossier’s omnichannel experience has become an industry norm. Consider the jewelry brand STUDS. After a client’s first experience in one of their physical ear piercing centers (which also have mirrors with a social-ready message: “hey, stud”), the customer relationship continues online.
“After that bond is forged, clients return to the STUDS website, again and again, to purchase new jewelry seasonally, or for major milestones in their life,” says Poschmann, who worked on designing this holistic customer journey for the brand. “This type of symbiotic relationship is something I think companies will continue to model as a new era of DTC emerges.”
Other brands are using tech to reimagine the traditional retail shopping process. Reformation, the sustainable women's clothing brand from California, introduced touchscreens into its stores that helped shoppers select items to try as well as request different sizes and colors from within the changing rooms in 2017. The changing rooms also have phone chargers, aux cords so you can play your music, and adjustable lighting options. The touch screen wardrobe gave customers an experience they couldn’t get online, yet felt as easy as scrolling through a website. They also provide Reformation with valuable order data, so the brand can better analyze the number of store visitors and SKU performance.
Images courtesy Reformation.
Ref, as the brand casually refers to itself, also seems to follow Weiss’ emotional commerce modus operandi. Its cheeky copywriting and communications around brand sustainability initiatives indicate a clear sense of its target audience. Between its social platforms, tech-infused in-store experiences, and personalized outbound experiences, like emails that let customers know if they have an unused gift card balance, when sizes are back in stock, or if there’s a lingering top in your cart, the brand ensures customers are always engaged in the world of Ref through omnichannel comms.
Personalize everything you can
The Yes, a multi-brand shopping app launched in May 2020, personalized shopping like never before through a sophisticated algorithm that uses data science and machine learning to offer recommendations via an interactive, gamified experience. It's like the swiping experience of Tinder but for shopping recommendations that help the algorithm learn your preferences (which also helps The Yes suggest hyper-tailored options). Pinterest acquired The Yes in June, stating that the platform shares “our vision of making it simple to find the right products that are personalized for you based on your taste and style.”
This focus on personalization tracks with how consumer behavior is changing, according to Jennifer Bentivegna, assistant chair of the fashion business management department at FIT. “As the younger generation continues to age they will force the hand of many brands by demanding personalized, accurate, innovative, and engaging consumer experiences,” says Bentivegna. “Today's consumers also prefer less frequent but more relevant emails. They should be snapshots—quick and to the point like a TikTok post or Instagram Reel.” Bentivegna cites Zara’s personalized notifications on their app and emails about in-store and app activity as a good example of an effective ecosystem created between the channels.
Images courtesy Chanel.
Be an early adopter
AR is another leading force in the digital toolkit of many brands, allowing them to offer increased personalization to customers, and differentiate themselves from competitors. Warby Parker was one of the very first brands to launch virtual try-on in 2019, and it's becoming a more and more essential part of the eCommerce buying experience.
Chanel Beauty’s new Lipscanner app is one recent example, which uses AI and AR to allow people to scan colors from photographs, their surroundings, or even someone’s face, and match them with products in corresponding shades. Users can then virtually try on the lip product on the app. In this most recent fashion week, Vogue partnered with Snap to create AR filters and virtual try-ons during its Vogue World runway show.
There’s also opportunity for legacy brands if done right. Nike’s ability to expand its existing ethos and aspirational profile into its metaverse presence is a great demonstration of how upcoming technologies can boost even a megabrand like Nike’s brand value. The brand set up a virtual store called Nikeland within the gaming platform Roblox earlier this year, which has already seen nearly 7 million visitors. Nike is also streamlining its supply chain to better serve digital purchases, reflecting its new focus on digital experience and DTC strategy.
Nike shows professionals across industries that emerging technologies like AI, AR, and web3 can provide brands with fresh opportunities to meet changing customer demand and interests, while opening up new profit streams and increasing sales. This is something we can expect to see more of, not less. And as more and more brands begin to push the boundaries of their online presence, one thing is for sure: we may not know what the future has in store, but it’ll definitely be stylish.