Livestreaming. Social commerce. Augmented reality. Those are just some of the emerging technologies that use inspiration and interactivity to capture the customer’s attention and drive conversion to site. They’re exciting, buzzy and cool, and retailers can’t wait to try them.
But to do it right, retailers first need to solve for what I call “inspiration clickbait.” All online shoppers have experienced it firsthand. You’re enticed by a vivid influencer image or a gorgeous banner promising “Our Top Looks for Spring,” only to be dropped onto a stark and uninspiring product page or a giant grid of 1,632 products.
When a retailer draws a shopper in with inspiration-based content and then one click later dumps them into a bland and transactional experience, they’ve just engaged in inspiration clickbait. Shoppers hate it, and it can erode trust in a brand.
So how do you increase inspiration on your site to keep that implied promise to shoppers?
Enter visual outfitting, a tech-enabled strategy that transforms product catalogs or flat images into inspiring and personalized bundles and looks on product pages, grid pages and really anywhere site visitors are. It plays the part of a shopper’s trusted friend or a store associate, mixing and matching different items and looks until the consumer finds a perfect match. When fully optimized, visual outfitting ensures retailers provide inspiration throughout the entire online customer journey.
Some fashion retailers today use visual outfitting to help them carve out fresh brand positioning and show product versatility. One leading example: Express, which is transforming from “a store at the mall” to a brand with purpose powered by a styling community. They’ve used visual outfitting on 98% of their product pages, showing more than 30,000 outfits to shoppers across their site on 7,000-plus product pages. As a result, they’ve doubled their conversion rate, boosted AOV by 60% and delivered on their new brand promise: to create confidence and inspire self-expression for their customers. Express has also increased its revenues, posting profits of $10.6 million and $13 million in Q2 and Q3 2021 respectively.
Delivering Inspiration Across the Whole Customer Journey
Let’s consider the typical shopper journey today. A shopper sees a friend on Instagram or a TikTok influencer wearing trendy patterned leggings and feels inspired to buy them. She googles the product, clicks through to the site and lands on a beautiful page with high-quality editorial photos designed to elevate the brand. She’s now 30 seconds into her exploration and clicks through with growing anticipation. And then…she’s dropped into a boring grid of hundreds of products.
She’s suddenly on her own, abandoned by the brand, facing the digital equivalent of dozens and dozens of racks of clothing on hangers, with no one to help her. When she tentatively clicks into one of the products, she’s dropped into a bleak product page with a couple of product photos, with models who look nothing like her and without any guidance on how she could actually style the product. At a key step in the journey, right when she needed inspiration and guidance most, the brand has left her to figure things out on her own.
Imagine instead if the shopper had visited those same grids and product pages and, at each step and on each page, had seen Instagram-style imagery visually styling those leggings with tops, accessories and footwear into a variety of outfits for a variety of occasions, styles and body types. That’s the type of end-to-end inspirational customer experience Nike, Revolve, Madewell and more than 100 other leading brands are delivering today with visual outfitting.
Scaling Inspiration with Technology
At its heart, visual outfitting turns products into outfits that act as editorial content, giving retailers a fast and effortless way to scale inspiration across their entire catalog and grow revenue. This is made possible by advanced image technology and artificial intelligence that’s capable of creating thousands of on-brand looks from a single flat image.
The savings and speed gains for a retailer or brand can be immense. Instead of hiring a photographer to create individual, magazine-style images of a few outfits from a new summer collection — a process that typically takes between 12 to 15 weeks and carries great expense — retailers can use visual outfitting technology to get the same high-quality images for every single item in their catalog, in far less time at a fraction of the cost. Once high-quality visual outfits are associated with every product, brands can then create look books, galleries and other interactive features they can distribute across all of their channels.
Today’s best-in-class visual outfitting programs use artificial intelligence to display the right outfit at the right time to the right shopper based on data and performance. Look for these three main characteristics:
- They display editorial-style outfits in a visual layout, instead of basic “complete the look” rows or grids.
- They use AI to rapidly scale outfit creation, while still ensuring every outfit is of stylist-level quality.
- They provide merchants with oversight and full control (vs. letting the AI go off in its own direction) so every single outfit is 100% on brand.
Value for Shoppers and Retailers
While visual outfitting brings benefits for consumers, it also helps retailers drive meaningful revenue lift by turning single-category shoppers into multi-category buyers. It encourages cross-sells and upsells with a level of personalization beyond the traditional “other products you might like” suggestions. And because visual outfitting allows retailers to A/B test at scale, it helps every team — from data to merchandising to product — experiment quickly and identify the themes and content that drive the most revenue and highest customer satisfaction.
Visual outfitting is a strategy brands and retailers should explore to help their customers feel confident and inspired as they venture back into their offices and resume their social lives.
Rohan Deuskar is the Founder and CEO of Stylitics, an automated visual merchandising platform that powers thousands of visual outfitting, styling and bundling programs for a sizable proportion of the world’s leading fashion and home retailers. Stylitics is one of the largest producers of original fashion content, working with more than 3,000 brands and providing outfitting for over 100 million shoppers a year. Deuskar is one of the most prolific inventors in retail technology, with a number of patents for technology now used by over 100 major global retailers across site, app, email, social and stores. A graduate of The Wharton School’s MBA program, Deuskar was selected as a 2014 Fashion Fellow by the New York City Economic Development Corporation and 92Y.