• November 18, 2009
  • By Jessica Tsai, Assistant Editor, CRM magazine

Dressing in Augmented Reality

Just in time for the holiday season, e-commerce solutions provider RichRelevance and interactive marketing company Zugara have teamed up to provide a new way to shop in the comfort of your home. With the launch of Fashionista, all shoppers need is a Webcam and computer to begin virtually trying on every piece of clothing in an online retail store. Motion detection allows customers to control the application with the flick of the wrist while they're standing away from their computer. In doing so, shoppers can signal their likes, dislikes, try on other items, take a photo, or share the look on Facebook.

Check out screen shots of the solution on our blog at www.destinationCRMBlog.com.

Fashionista is a Adobe Flash-based application built on the RichRelevance personalization platform and is available as part of its enRICH product suite. "Downloading is the enemy," says David Selinger, chief executive officer and founder of RichRelevance, especially when it comes to creating a seamless experience for the consumer and enables retailers to track results using existing analytics. The fact that Zugara, which is a member of the Augmented Reality (AR) Consortium, was among the only vendors to provide a Flash-based solution only was a leading factor in the partnership. This also marks RichRelevance's first application integration with a third-party vendor. "The thread of personalization has to be done through a platform strategy," he says. "[We] can't build everything ourselves."

RichRelevance is the first to unveil an augmented reality solution to enhance the online shopping experience. The product announcement is paired with the vendor's first official customer launch for women's online retailer Tobi.com, which features 300 items for consumers to try. Innovative technology like Fashionista should be "fun, cool, sexy," but in order for the solution to ever take off, Selinger emphasizes that it has to be "practical, useful, and profitable."

Coming from a background at Amazon, specifically as former head of the company's Personalization R&D team, Selinger is devoted to "making the entire experience relevant to the consumer," he says. When it comes to offline or online shopping, consumers should have a smooth, seamless experience. While the opportunities in augmented reality are seemingly limitless, for now, RichRelevance will only be debuting the technology to clothing retailers.

Services such as My Virtual Model allow shoppers to upload a photo of themselves to create a digital 3D model as they try on various garments, but lack the real-world component. "[Fashionista] allows for consumers who want to engage with fashion products in a bit more intimate way," says Patti Freeman Evans, a vice president and research director at Forrester Research. Though the solution may provide a richer experience than merely looking of the product, or how it's worn on another model, Freeman Evans points out that size is still an issue and will continue to be a challenge retailers must face in the online shopping realm.

The social component not only allows shoppers to share the look within their networks, but also provides retailers with a wealth of information based on consumer thumbs-ups or thumbs-downs. Personalized clothing recommendations are also better delivered based on the shopper's session history in addition to wisdom-of-the-crowds insight. Similar to the algorithm of online radio site Pandora, Fashionista adjusts the mix of product recommendations in real-time as shoppers indicate their likes and dislikes. Only the products that were given a thumbs-up are added to the shopping cart once the consumer indicates that they're done.

According to Zugara Chief Executive Officer Matthew Szymczyk in the company press release, 83 percent of online shoppers report being interest in sharing information about their purchases with people they know. In addition, 74 percent are influenced by the opinions of others in their decision to buy the product in the first place. For marketers, Facebook has long been a challenge. Aside from ad placements on the right-hand columns of the profile page, which Selinger says has shown very disappointing returns, and the occasional posts in the product feed, marketers have made little headway in this space. However, Fashionista provides shoppers with the ability to upload their image to Facebook, which increases the likelihood their friends will check it out. "It's sort of a backdoor way for [marketers] to find something fun for the consumer," Selinger says.

Freeman Evans sees innovative features like Fashionista continuing to emerge well into 2010 and through 2011. Consumers, she says, have the bandwidth to take on these rich experiences that bring more to life than the catalog-like shopping experiences of the past decade. Incorporating video and high-quality viewing capabilities was a huge step up for many retailers looking to create a "dynamic, faster, and hopefully more interesting, experience," Freeman Evans says.  

No matter how cool the tools are retailers have to make sure they've got the basics -- search engine optimization, good product copy, user-generated reviews, search and navigation -- down solid before even considering adopting emerging technologies. With features like Fashionista, page load times may be slowed down significantly and it only takes four seconds for consumers to leave the site, Freeman Evans warns. "Make sure you're not undermining your site efficiency," she says. "Just because it's a cool tool doesn't mean people are necessarily going to wait for [it]."

Any new functionality will only live on top of an existing framework, so if the check out process is inefficient to begin with, consumer will leave even if they have fun playing with your new widget. Features like augmented reality are nice for developing a rich experience, but if the site is poorly designed, then the customer may never even get to the point of enjoying it, let alone making a purchase, Freeman Evans says. "It's like making sure your doors are unlocked and your lights are on in a physical store."

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine. You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" at the top; to contact the editors, please email editor@destinationCRM.com.

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