Can robots teach us how to dress better?

With the recent growth in online styling companies, including Stitch Fix with its recent IPO and Thread.com, which has also recently received investment from H&M, the relationship between machine and human stylists was a hotly debated topic at Retail Week Tech. Festival.

We caught up with Kostas Koukoravas, Founder & CEO – Intelistyle, Tatiana Ohnyeva, Strategy Director – Fashion Concierge (Farfetch) and Dina Sidani, Head of Greenhouse Accelerator/ Innovation Lab – Chalhoub Group to find out how machine and human stylists are working together now to provide styling advice and personalisation to consumers at scale.

AI styling & workforces

Dina Sidani provided a practical example of how when working with Dolce & Gabbana they were able to provide a much needed clienteling solution that increased sales and customer loyalty.

Sidani, detailed how Dolce & Gabbana had two excellent stylists who were making up a lot of sales and wanted to scale their talent to all store associates, empowering the front liners to perform the same way.

Partnering with Intelistyle, they carried out four pilots with Dolce & Gabbana and scoped out three months to test the solution using two use cases. How would they get the front liners to recommend look books and be able to cross sell? And, how would they reduce missed sales opportunities, for example when people come in to store and the item doesn’t fit them. Ultimately, the main goal was to be able to empower front line staff to cross sell, just as well as their star stylists.

Traditionally look books were created manually, which were not very tailored or flexible. Working with Intelistyle, Dolce & Gabbana were able to develop look books with different body shapes and colours, which provided other members of the team the tools to be able to add extra ‘sparkle’ to the customer experience in-store.

By integrating human intelligence and emotional empathy with AI via a tablet in-store, the other store associates were able to provide better recommendations to customers. Additionally, they were able to cross sell outfits to the customer, increasing the luxury fashion house’s AOV.

Why is this important in styling?

Speaking passionately, Ohnyeva asked “What was the state of luxury in 2000?” In the past there was only two ways to get a stylist – one-to-one or in a department store. Now due to the advancements in technology, consumers can gain fashion styling tips from multiple sources.

“Assisted selling increases conversion metrics, [however in the past] customers only had advertorial inspiration. In 2007 a lot of online retailers were born and figures today show that the average platform gets millions of views, [and customers spend on average] five minutes, looking through five pages. [The question is] how to get these millions into paying customers and coming away feeling they got some value?”

In 2007 the iPhone was launched, and in 2010 Instagram and WhatsApp were born. Since then, fashion has seen a huge change and “the biggest challenge is to remain customer focussed. It has become easily accessible, it’s important for brands to look at what the customers really want,” she concluded.

Acquired by Farfetch in 2017, Fashion Concierge uses artificial intelligence and a global network of personal shoppers to connect luxury consumers to the products they are searching for. This demand first model enables the platform to connect with real-time supply using an operational model – drop shipment, meaning it allows customers to buy products that are not available on the market place, which Ohnyeva describes as “an infinity shelf.”

How will AI and tech continue to impact the fashion industry?

The session also touched on conversational commerce and Kostas posed the question, “Can it be automated through a chat bot?”

“The challenge facing the industry is that customers choose different avenues to connect with brands. A lot of companies create their own chat/app that links to their platform, but it is a challenge to get people to move away from their chosen channel.” Ohnveya detailed how the channel depends on the content. “If you’re just sharing information, it could be automated (no emotion), or if you want the product to come to life, you need emotion. It’s about customer engagement and making the first three interactions perfect! That way you will enhance the retention rate.”

She continued, “A lot of development needs to be done still. No one has done it properly yet. [I believe] development [and focus] needs to be done on WhatsApp and WeChat.”

Also commenting on how technology can enhance a luxury retailers’ operations, Sidani said; “We need to free up the stylist’s time, streamlining operations, to allow them to spend most of their time understanding the psychology of the customer. We see conversational commerce as extremely important.”

Conclusion

Ultimately, the panellists’ advice was that retailers shouldn’t adopt tech for tech’s sake but look at what they’re actually trying to achieve. Tech can be used to outsource operational issues; however, the panellists were clear that you should also keep an element of direct communications with customers. This was highlighted when Ohnyeva discussed the popular fad of ‘magic’ mirrors, it’s “incredible tech. [but] have you seen a customer using it? It’s not natural.” She believes there needs to be a human element between the customer and technology.

And asked whether tech will completely replace personal stylists it was a resounding ‘no’ from the panel. While tech frees up stylists’ time to have personal conversations, shoppers will always want a human connection in their buying journey.

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