Is Online Shopping AR’s Killer App?

I am one of those people who celebrates the future. I absolutely love the possibilities of technology and technological change. At the same time, I can’t let go of the past. I use fountain pens to take notes in a paper notebook that is wrapped in a leather cover. But generally, I am biased toward the possibilities of new technologies — and not just information technology.

This week, I came across the Nike Fit, which seems like such a smart use of a much-hyped technology: augmented reality. Nike Fit allows you to point your phone at your feet and get the most accurate measurement. The size data that is collected enables you to find the right match for your foot from Nike’s mind-boggling array of shoe choices.

This is a product and use of technology that makes perfect sense. It affirms my confidence in the long-term prospects for AR and the possibilities of visual sensors. According to Nike’s PR, for what it’s worth, about “60% of people at any given time are walking around in the wrong size shoe.” And in North America alone, “half a million people complain about purchasing the wrong shoe size a year.”

In the past, we would go to a store, where a clerk would measure our foot using the Brannock Device to determine the correct fit. It would take him a trip back or two to the storeroom to find the right shoe. But we don’t go to the stores all that much anymore. Instead, we increasingly shop online and get everything shipped to our homes.

According to eMarketer, a market research group, “Three in five US internet users said they’ve purchased clothes, shoes or accessories online in the past month.” The rate is even higher for females and people ages 18 to 34. No wonder they are forecasting that “online sales of apparel and accessories will rise from 26.1% of total retail sales in 2019 to 38.7% by 2023.”

This is the new normal. And it’s not that different from the old normal in that, most of the time, the first round of clothes or shoes you try on don’t end up fitting and are often returned. This is an additional headache from a buyer’s perspective, and it is a lot of money for the retailer. It seems that augmented reality could actually solve this problem.

For instance, using just my iPad, an app from a retailer — let’s say, Mr. Porter — could take a quick scan of my body and create a proper sizing profile to store for future purchases. From then on, each time I try out and buy the clothing, I can provide feedback and fine tune my profile. This should theoretically eliminate any results that don’t match my size from search queries. It could also allow the company to open up a made-to-measure line of business. Of course, being a privacy-minded person who appreciates data portability, I would like (and expect, in an ideal world) this data profile to be portable. By that, I mean that the company should allow me to take it elsewhere — even to a different retailer — and give me the option of purging it from their datasets.

I am surprised that Amazon hasn’t really started to offer this product already. With its Echo Show, it could easily start pushing more of its own branded clothing products to customers in a more effective manner. What is more astonishing is that Zappos, whose business is entirely based on giving us options to try shoes at home hasn’t developed an AR app for better shoe fit.

It is great to see Nike innovate using AR. Like IKEA, another retail giant, Nike knows that new technologies can be lucrative for the company if implemented in a way that solves problems for customers.

This first appeared on my May 12, 2019, weekly newsletter. If you like to get this delivered to your inbox, just sign-up here, and I will take care of the rest.

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