Dressed to the nines: 9 ways technology is transforming fashion and retail

With a customer base including just about everyone, it’s no wonder that the fashion industry is a global powerhouse. In fact, a $2.4 trillion per year powerhouse. If it were a country, it would be the world’s 7th largest economy, on par with the total economic output of France or India. And like practically every other industry—and country—the fashion sector relies on making use of new technologies to support growth.

What’s perhaps surprising is how ahead-of-the-curve many fashion brands and retailers are when it comes to implementing advanced technologies. Below we’ve rounded up 9 examples of fashion brands using advanced tech like artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and blockchain to attract customers, grow sales, and develop entirely new product categories.

Here are 9 ways advanced technologies are transforming fashion and retail:

  1. Artificial intelligence for designing fashion. Fashion may be ruled by trends, but a person’s style can be said to be as unique as a fingerprint. Enter artificial intelligence, the cluster of intelligent technologies allowing the fashion industry to shape the future of fashion using algorithms that learn from images to generate new styles on their own.
  2. The new reality of VR and AR. The use of virtual and augmented-reality tools is increasing in the fashion world. While early experiments were largely promotional, investment is being made by fashion brands and retailers to create digital environments that not only showcase styles but become an entirely new sales channel. The Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba built a virtual store stocked with goods and made purchase and payment by customers as easy as nodding their heads.
  3. Mobile sales via AI-powered messaging bots. As fashion retail has moved online and gone mobile, the industry is attempting to replicate the role of the floor salesperson using AI-powered messaging bots. The fashion brand Burberry, for instance, launched a chatbot in conjunction with London Fashion Week that let users preview new styles and make an immediate purchase.
  4. Blockchain will become part of business vernacular. Despite all the attention cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin receive in the press, practically every industry is exploring how to make use of blockchain, the foundational technology that enables Bitcoin. Fashion entrepreneurs are designing wearables intended to tap into the mainstreaming of blockchain and cryptocurrencies. Among the offerings are biometric rings that use blockchain to secure a person’s passwords and wearable payment devices for making payments using the Dash cryptocurrency.
  5. Shopping assistants go mobile. The retailer Macy’s is building an AI-powered app to assistant shoppers while they’re in the company’s stores. Macy’s On Call uses AI technologies like natural language processing to understand customer questions and provide answers and recommendations. The app is expected to appeal to Millennial shoppers who in many cases prefer to consult their smartphones rather than a floor salesperson.
  6. Advances in new materials and wearables. Another new development in fashion is the use of highly advanced materials that give clothes entirely new functionality. Making use of nanotechnology to produce smart fibers and conductive yarns, these fabrics can be used in everything from apparel to furniture covering to bedding. Denim company Levi’s produced an early example of this in the form of a commuter jacket that connected with smartphones; the jacket’s sleeve was designed to accept touch commands. 
  7. Talent-spotting using social media. The transformative use of social media in fashion goes well beyond its use as a promotional tool. Social media users who amass large followings on Instagram, Facebook, and other platforms earn the attention of fashion brands in the form of sponsorship deals. But social’s influence goes further, to include talent-spotting for roles like fashion photographers, runway models, and back-stage makeup artists, stylists, and producers.
  8. Fashion tech accelerators. Taking a page from Silicon Valley and the Fortune 500, the fashion and retail industries have launched innovation labs designed to foster entrepreneurship and technological development. The New York Fashion Tech Lab, for example, is a nonprofit with a mission to support women-led fashion companies. Retailer Neiman Marcus launched its innovation lab in 2012, launching projects like voice-activated sales associate bots and connected fitting room technology.
  9. Digital transformation using smart beacons. The retail industry is using “smart beacons” to boost sales and generate new streams of customer data. The systems connect with customers’ devices using Bluetooth and enable functionality like location-based promotions. Beyond the sales aspect, smart beacons provide valuable data that supports internal marketing analysis as well as customer personalization.

Entefy shared insights into the impact of artificial intelligence, automation, and other disruptive technologies most recently in this snapshot covering 27 different industries