Can you imagine your stylist being a bot capable of giving you clothing advice based on human input? Well, to stay ahead in the $3 trillion global fashion industry, retailers are turning to stylists and personal shoppers to help them fine-tune algorithms that help them serve their customers better. By infusing bots with humanity, fashion-forward companies like Japanese high street brand Uniqlo, are finding innovative ways of staying ahead with their competitors. Rei Inamoto, the founder of Inamoto & Co., the New York-based firm behind Uniqlo’s technology, believes that when somebody asks, ‘What should I wear?’ they’re looking for a personalised answer which gives them a useful edge.
Creating A Master Stylist Who Can Offer Customisation and Convenience
Taking a different approach, some companies are finding various ways of offering customers both customisation and convenience. They include online styling-subscription service Stitch Fix and tech shopping giant Amazon.
Paying $15.00 per hour, Stitch Fix has come up with a way to work with stay-at-home moms and even full-time lawyers, who are paid to select clients’ outfits based on a combination of sales data, artificial intelligence and their taste. Rachel Gee, a preschool teacher-turned-Stitch Fix stylist, told Daily Herald about how she used her client Sarah’s profile and the company’s algorithms, as well as three years’ worth of purchases, to be able to pick five pieces that she could send to her client. “I can see she’s very romantic and edgy, style-wise,” Gee said. “She’s outdoorsy and has a casual vibe. I feel like I know her — like she’s my friend, almost.”
Paying $15.00 per hour, Stitch Fix has come up with a way to work with stay-at-home moms and even full-time lawyers.
As for Amazon, they took a slightly different approach. Not only did they hire fashion designers, photo editors and retail workers to help shape their proprietary software, they also worked with researchers to develop an algorithm that analyses images of clothing and then designs similar items. On Amazon’s approach, Wendy Liebmann, chief executive of consulting firm WSL Strategic Retail told Daily Herald, “Companies realise that you can squeeze even more juice out of the orange if you combine data analytics with the human stylists.” Adding, “We all know that artificial intelligence is a valuable tool, but it so often misses the nuances.”
The idea of the fashion industry creating its very own master stylist has been considered a not very sustainable business model by some. Milton Pedraza, chief executive of the Luxury Institute, a market research firm in New York, said: “Working with a personal stylist at Bergdorf Goodman or Saks Fifth Avenue is one thing; relying on machine-learning and stylists in far-off cubicles is another”. She continues: “Algorithms and one-size-fits-all stylists keep costs down, but it doesn’t mean that they’re particularly good matchmakers or can understand tastes and lifestyle. Having a stylist is about creating a personal relationship, and that doesn’t happen if someone is styling you from a computer on the other side of the country.”
Pedraza has a point, but the thing is, the idea of combining human and bot, does not have to end up being a Frankenstein of sorts. It could if applied correctly be a great convenience for shoppers who see significant benefits in a machine learning them and getting to know their style. I think that companies jumping head first into this new and exciting version of retail therapy gets me excited about where the future of technology is going to take the retail industry.