Having my master thesis in mind, I started to overthink my topic and the research I conducted throughout the last two semesters.
First, I went back to the beginning and asked myself again how a virtual fitting room could be included on a website to improve the shopping experience online. For this approach, I envisioned a virtual fitting room for swimwear and finally turned down the idea. I then focused on size guiding in swimwear and looked into existing online swimwear stores for women to compare their brand stories and business models. I compared their size guides, fabrication methods, sustainability, collections, designs, and supply. Many of those websites confused me a lot. I had the feeling of not quite understanding the brand’s values and story. I instantly thought about Miller’s quote (“you confuse, you lose”) and was thinking he is damn right, I would never order a bikini from this online store. This was a key moment for me because I finally found a way to combine branding/storytelling and interaction design. I took a step back from founding a sustainable brand with an immersive shopping experience and a step towards telling a story of a sustainable brand virtually. In my further research, I would like to focus on brand storytelling on websites and online stores. In addition, it would be interesting to even create a prototype website for a fictional brand (if I would have to choose now, I would build an online shop for women’s swimwear). The focus should be on connecting visitors of the website with the company’s story and values.
For my master thesis I can imagine to:
– dive deep into the theory of storytelling for a company
– find various methods to tell a brand story virtually
– create a universal framework on how to include a brand’s story into their web design
– designing a website/ an online store for a fictional company as a storytelling example
As mentioned in my last blog entry “Sustainability x Augmented Reality”, AR has the potential to improve a brand’s transparency and loyalty, as well as spread the brand’s message and support its sustainable endeavors.
Through further research, I looked into branding concepts and storytelling. I was interested in how companies bring their story to life and how they create a brand experience. During my research in this field, I found many examples of companies that try to create a stronger connection with their customers with branded interactions and experiences.
The question that stood out for me is how a brand can clarify its brand story for customers on their website/online shop. I was wondering if there is a way AR or technology, in general, can help to create a brand experience that fits the brand values perfectly. A was researching the combination of storytelling and technology in the following.
I got overwhelmed with the big fashion world, so I decided to narrow down “buying fashion online” to “buying sustainable swimwear for women online”. Researching a more specific field made it easier for me to compare existing brands and their stories. In the following, I will give a short introduction of my main findings on brand storytelling I found on my research journey.
Building a story brand and unleashing the power of storytelling
Since I got more and more interested in how to create a clear and well-rounded brand story, I read two books about storytelling in the branding process which gave me interesting insights. The first one by Donald Miller “Building a Story Brand”. The book by Miller is all about clarifying a brand’s message in order to get the customers’ attention. The author is focused on selling products online and turning the buying process into an adventure for the clients. In order to achieve the clearest possible message for a brand and get its audience to understand the brand and want to be part of it, the author identifies seven steps to a successful storytelling. The most important lessons I learned from the book are:
1) Make your customer the hero of the story and help them fulfill just one of their desires Simply listing the product or service a company offers is not enough. The brand has to make it clear by identifying how the offering will fulfill the customer’s needs.
2) Identify people’s problems and pain points as the villain to keep them interested Turning problems people need a solution to into villains that they, as the hero of the story, need to conquer, will work in favor of the brand. For instance, a painter could identify the feelings of embarrassment that a customer might have if their house paint looks shabby, as the villain.
3) Give customers a vision of the transformation they will accomplish by purchasing your product People desire success and a brand can help customers to have a vision of how its product can boost their success by appealing three desires: status, completeness and self-acceptance.
A great quote from the book I will keep in mind: “NEVER PLAY THE HERO IN THE STORY, ALWAYS PLAY THE GUIDE.” and: “IF YOU CONFUSE, YOU LOSE”
“Building a Brand Story” is an interesting and helpful book with many real-life examples. It offered me great support to get closer to the core message of a brand.
The other book “Unleash the Power of Storytelling” is by the author Rob Biesenbach. The chapter I found most interesting “Emotion Fuels Stories” is about giving a brand story an emotional core by winning hearts and changing minds. Biesenbach offers some guiding questions for creating a brand story:
– Is the character real and relatable? The brand story needs to be brought down to the human level
– Is there sufficient conflict? Drama is needed to hold the audience’s attention
– Are the stakes high enough? For a story to work, there has to be something important at stake
– Is there a clear cause and effect?
– Is there an emotional core? If the audience feels something, they are more likely to act
Biesenbach makes a point by saying that in most cases communication involves stories. He also suggests building one’s personal brand story to understand oneself better and assess various opportunities. Also a great book with sample stories.
Biesenbach, Rob (2018): Unleash the Power of Storytelling. Win Hearts, Change Minds, Get Results.
Miller, Donald (2017): Building a Story Brand. Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen.
International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME): The paper “Vrengt: A Shared Body-Machine Instrument for Music-Dance Performance” caught my attention because it explores the body as a musical interface. Since I am working on a face-tracking project that uses face gestures as a musical interface, the paper is of great relevance for my current work.
The paper is about the multi-user instrument “Vrengt”, which is developed for music-dance performance and in which dancer and musician interact co-creatively and co-dependently with their bodies and machines. “Vrengt” is based on the idea of enabling a partnership between a dancer and a musician by offering an instrument for interactive co-performance. The guiding question is to what what extent the dancer can adopt musical intentions and whether the musician can give up control of performing while still playing together. The focus is on exploring the boundaries between standstill vs motion, and silence vs sound. In the process, sonification was used as a tool for exploring a dancer’s bodily expressions with focus on sonic micro interaction. To capture a dancer’s muscle activity during a performance, two Myo gesture control armbands are placed on the dancer’s left arm and right leg. Moreover, the dancer’s sound of breathing is captured with a wireless headset microphone. Based on the aim of creating a body-machine instrument for a dancer to interact with her/his body and a musician with a set of physical controllers, the project members started with capturing muscle signals and breathing of the dancer. In this context EMG plays a big role: “Electromyogram (EMG) is a complex signal that represents the electrical currents generated during neuromuscular activities. It is able to report little or non-visible inputs (intentions), which may not always result in overt body movements. EMG is therefore highly relevant for exploring involuntary micro motion.”
The instrument offers great freedom in collectively exploring sonic interactions and the outcome/performance is structured in three parts: – Breath (embodied sounds of dancer modulated and controlled by musician)
– Standstill (even though the dancer is barely moving, the audience can hear the dancer’s neural commands causing muscle contraction)
– Musicking (active process of music-making)
To create sound objects that approximate responsive physical behavior and are appropriate for continuous physical interactions, the Sound Design Toolkit (SDT) in Max was used. The sounds used boost the imagination of associating body movements with everyday sounds. The following figure displays the sonic imagery.
What I found especially interesting about the paper was the inclusion of the subjective evaluations of the dancer and the musician in the discussion part. From the musician view, it requires stepping out of the comfort. The familiar instrumental circumstances are exchanged by the athletic and artistic environment of a dancer. For the musician, it is important to understand the dancer’s feelings and develop a common language. Even though the dancer is in charge of the main gestural input, the musician decides on the sound objects, scaling and mix levels. For a dancer, performing with interactive sonification makes a big difference to dancing to music. The dancer describes listening as the main aspect for decision making and physical play and exploration happen while moving along intuitively. The dancer describes her experience as “not knowing where to, and how to, still with a clear sense of direction”, the focus shifts from the body to the sound.
In my view, this project offers interesting insights on developing a new way of communicating and creating art through a new type of body language and a new physical language. I think it has great potential to be part of art installation installations in an experimental context. It offers a great opportunity to open new ways of feeling one’s own body and hearing the consequences of one’s moves. “Vrengt” enables an individual music-dance performance as well as a creative collaboration between dancer and musician. As was clear from the text, through the shared control, musician and dancer both feel like “owners” of the final outcome, generating a feeling of being part of something bigger. For me, it was inspiring that the project turned the usual music-dance performance upside down by a dancer not moving to a given sound but creating the sound through movement. Nevertheless, it would be interesting to see the experiment in a more even bodily contribution of dancer and musician, because in the described setup, compared to the full-body experience of the dancer, the musician uses only his hands to operate with the computer.
If you are curious what “Vrengt” looks like in action, you can watch the following video of a live performance I stumbled across while researching the topic a bit further: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpECGAkaBp0
In order to wrap up the topic, I would like to engage a collaboration of sustainability and augmented reality by showing how AR could improve sustainability in e-commerce. Additionally to the 6 criteria of sustainable fashion, AR could push sustainable practices even further. AR could support responsible fashion brands to: • Help/nudge customers to practice responsible consumption by ordering what they actually like/ what them actually fits • Reduce waste and emissions caused by returns (transport, labels, packaging, …) • Display brand transparency • Level up customer satisfaction to get more customers and a bigger budget for producing clothes ecologically and fair
Augmented Reality is a powerfully engaging medium that can support and promote sustainable practices. It can educate consumers, improve brand transparency and loyalty, and spread the messages most important to a company’s sustainable endeavours.
Let’s face it, the fashion industry is one of the dirtiest we have on this planet. It wastes water, it pollutes the air and oceans and is responsible for 2,1 billion tons of CO2 per year.
Luckily, producing clothes more responsibly isn’t just a trend anymore but became a strong movement over the last few years. Due to growing awareness, the demand for fair and ecological garments as well as the market expanded to a great amount. A term that often occurs in that context is SLOW FASHION.
But what exactly does slow fashion mean?
“Made from high quality, sustainable materials. Often in smaller (local) stores rather than huge chain enterprises. Locally sourced, produced and sold garments. Few, specific styles per collection, which are released twice or maximum three times per year.” The following graphic compares slow fashion with fast fashion.
Besides from the slow fashion aspects, there are 6 criteria that sum up what makes a fashion brand sustainable.
In order to understand how retailer help their customers to find the right garment in the right size, this blog post compares different approaches of UI/UX of online shops.
A big part of e-commerce returns happens when products don’t match their online description. Online shoppers return clothes that don’t align with their needs, that’s why e-commerce brands use size guides. With size guides, brands want to reduce return rates and improve the customer’s shopping experience. However, there are several approaches that support online store visitors to find the right fit. I tried out various e-commerce size guides and put together an overview of them in the following.
Best practice examples
As a first example, I would like to share Carhartt’s online size guide. In 6 steps, the online store helps visitors to find their size. See steps below.
A similar size guide was found on the TWOTHIRDS website.
The next best practice is more extensive than the ones before. ThirdLove is an American lingerie company that invites website visitors to take an interactive quiz about their bra fit.
SRFACE offers a sizing guide for their wetsuits based on measurements.
The jeans retailer Madewell follows a simple but effective method of size guiding by showing customers on product on different models/bodytypes.
What information about a consumer is important for size guiding and how can it be categorized?
The categories in guide sizing for women online that emerged from the examples discussed are:
• body measurements (height, weight) • body type (bust, taille, hip) • age • usual sizes (e.g. bra size) • preferred fit (loose, tight)
What are proven methods to deliver more accurate size guidance in online stores?
Additionally, the following dots should be included in fashion e-commerce websites to improve size guides.
• Include fit finder quiz (interactive online fit/size quiz) • Interactive size guide • Display product videos • Show product on multiple models/different body types • Measurement conversion charts • Feature customer reviews to validate size guide
The fourth in the league of blog entries on the topic of UX in the fashion industry offers some examples of companies that are using augmented reality for their e-commerce businesses. This part of my research is dedicated to find out how companies include the technology and what goals they are pursuing with it.
According to IBM’s 2020 U.S. Retail Index report, the pandemic accelerated the shift to digital shopping by roughly five years. According to a Neilsen global survey from 2019, consumers listed Augmented and Virtual Reality as the top technologies they’re seeking to assist them in their daily lives. In fact, just over half said they were willing to use this technology to assess products. AR has proven that it can add enormous value for consumers in the shopping journey. Therefore, some brands are already re-imagining retail to provide a better shopping experience for their users.
Taking a look at existing products
A virtual “try-before-you-buy” experience is already implemented by IKEA, offering a free App called IKEA Place. The app lets users virtually place furnishing in their space.
The home improvement retailer Home Depot added augmented reality capabilities to its app and mobile web before the pandemic. The feature helps lift engagement and conversion as consumers spend more time shopping on their phones.
For consumers to virtually try on luxury fashion, AR became an essential tool for brands such as Louis Vuitton and Gucci. Among some innovative AR collaborations, Gucci launched a virtual shoe ‘try-on’ called Lenses through the Snapchat platform.
Physical stores reopening again, requires a high level of hygiene and safety. In response beauty retailer Sephora offers customers to test out makeup products with AR. Another beauty retailer, Ulta, uses the app GLAMlab to increase customers engagement to find the right shade of foundation.
The jewellery brand Kendra Scott introduced an AR tool enabling customers to virtually try-on different earring styles from the comfort of their homes.
All AR examples have the same aim: to help consumers to find the right product by offering them a preview of the product. Ar in retail seems to work and boost conversion for products such as furniture, home appliances, accessories, jewellery, shoes and makeup. Nevertheless, I couldn’t find running AR applications that are used for trying on clothes virtually and helping customers to find the right fit and size. Since body types differ enormously, clothes look different on everybody and pose a great challenge for implementing AR in the online shopping experience for garments.
In order to make this topic more tangible, I will take a look at the approaches of size guiding of clothes in online shops. The next blog entry will show best practice examples of size guiding online.
The aim of this blog entry is to demonstrate the main problem online apparel retailers are facing.
Do we have a problem?
Indeed. It’s Holiday season. This means it’s the most popular time of the year for online shopping. When shopping online, a quarter of holiday shoppers intend to return items at a later date, when purchasing them. As a result, ecommerce brands register the most returns throughout December, January and February. But high e-commerce return rates happen throughout the year and across all industries. With a return rate of 12.2%, apparel retailers struggle with the second highest return rate out of all industries and lie above the average return rate of 10.6%.
When having a closer look at return rates by category, it is visible that womenswear has the highest return rate of 23%. Followed by Footwear with 20%. Although the figures presented here relate to the combined product categories of multichannel, they reflect the trend in digital sales.
But why does the fashion industry have so many returns?
It is a fact that returns are the new normal of e-commerce and central to customer experience. Many customers buy with the explicit intention to immediately return some or all of their items. It is known that around 70% of fashion returns are related to size and fit, a challenge that doesn’t occur when ordering a TV or a coffee table for instance. The issue of size and fit contributes to the problem, because when customers are not sure what size they need they order multiple sizes of one item, with the certainty to send back the rejects.
Consumer preference-based returns like size, fit and style drive the majority of returns in fashion items. Non-preference-based reasons like detective products or account for 10% of fashion returns. In the following, the return reasons with the percentage are stated.
Size too small: 30%
Size too large: 22%
Changed my mind: 12%
Not as described: 5%
Other or not specified: 18%
And why is returning clothes a problem?
The high return rates are actually not only an economic problem for retailer, but also an environmental issue when facing the fact, that free shipping and returns come with a high unsustainable cost. It’s estimated that return shipping in the US alone creates 15 tons of carbon emissions per year. That’s the same amount produced by five million people. Moreover, in some cases returned items get destroyed by the retailer due to cost and time aspects (see picture below).
So, when preventing the likelihood of returns, retailers reduce the brand’s carbon footprint. The less returns, the less resources are wasted.
How can online fashion retailers reduce their return rates?
For starters, brands need to check that all public-facing content—including product descriptions—are accurate and detailed. If the product arrives differently than expected, there’s a high chance of it being returned. In order to provide more details on items’ fit and size, AR technology comes into use.
Using AR on e-commerce websites
Buying clothes in-store, naturally has some advantages over shopping online. The ability to see in person, try on, and interact with products before purchase, makes returns less likely. Now, to bring those advantages to online shopping, AR technology should help customers to experience an in-store shopping experience when shopping via a device. Retailers can use AR to show what their products look like tried on, in a customer’s home, or next to an item they own for size comparison. AR prevents the reason behind the majority of returns: the fact the item looks different in person than it did online.
As a further step, my upcoming blog entry will focus on the market of AR in general and Virtual Fitting Rooms in detail.
In my second blog entry, I dive deeper into topic of the technology behind virtual fitting rooms – Augmented Reality. My research should lay the groundwork for understanding how AR works and how it can be used in a fashion context.
And what exactly is Augmented Reality?
Augmented Reality (AR) is available on any camera-equipped device – mostly on smartphone and tablet – and on which the corresponding AR software is installed. AR adds digital content onto a device’s live camera feed, making the digital content seem to be part of the real world. Unlike Virtual Reality (VR), which replaces reality with a completely digital environment, AR enhances the real world by digital information overlay or virtual details, which means the real environment remains central to the user experience.
Widely known and used examples of AR are for instance Pokémon Go and Ikea App. The picture below shows a range of different applications and fields, taking advantage of AR.
But how does AR work?
When a user points the device’s camera at an object, the software recognizes it through computer vision technology, which analyzes the content of the camera feed. The device then downloads information about the recognized object from the cloud and presents the AR information as an object overlay in a 3D experience. The content displayed is part real and part virtual. Computer vision determines an object in terms of semantics (what) and 3D geometry (where). First recognizing an object, then understanding it’s 3D position and orientation. With geometry, it is possible for the rendering module to display the AR content at the right place and angle, which is essential for a realistic AR experience. AR is real-time 3D or in other words it is live, which means the process explained above has to occur every time a new frame comes from the camera (most smartphones today work at 30 fps). As a result, when moving a device, the size and orientation of the augmentation adjusts to the changed context automatically.
Finally: AR & fashion?
Yes – one field of application for AR are virtual try-ons. However, the experience should go beyond the aspect of trying on clothes, and it has to be said that AR cannot yet completely replace a real try-on due to the lack of display quality. The key aspect in such experiences is the part real and part virtual aspect of AR (person = real and garment = virtual).
According to Vogue Business, the “AR clothing try-on is nearly here” and it “is getting closer to reality, and the pace of acceleration is increasing”. Companies and start-ups are working on improving try-on capabilities with updates including 3D body mesh to define 3D shapes, cloth simulation and its behavior more precisely. Since there are many interesting possibilities for in-shop-experience and online-experience, investors and tech companies see a great potential in AR clothing. The value of the technology is extended beyond its entertainment aspect.
In my next blog entry, I will focus more on the benefits of AR clothing and how it could potentially solve current problems concerning the fashion industry with a focus on e-commerce.
SUSTAINABILITY X TECHNOLOGY How can online shopping become more convenient and sustainable through interaction design?
The fashion industry constitutes one of the biggest players in the world economy. In the last decade, shopping for clothes online has gained a lot of popularity, leading to the global growth of e-commerce and m-commerce. An increase of global e-commerce fashion revenues from $481.2 billion in 2018 to $712.9 billion in 2022 is expected. Since some 20% of online purchases are made via mobile phone, retailers are creating mobile applications to improve the user experience for online shopping. The industry is strongly driven by competition, which makes it all the more important to build connections with customers and offer an experience rather than a mere product.
The success of e-commerce fashion websites or apps depends on the confidence that customers have in their use. In order to increase confidence and generate trust, visual aspects, as well as usability of the website or application, need to be taken into account. Fashion brands in particular are facing certain challenges in online customer experience because customer satisfaction is mainly based on product aesthetic and product fit. The deriving key obstacles in fashion e-commerce are therefore wrong size and bad fit, leading to high return rates. To improve customer experience online and reduce return rates, the integration of smart technologies and service design is enhanced in terms of virtual fitting rooms. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the technology of trying on clothes without touching them has become more popular. By using AR or AI, customers can use their mobile device to try virtually selected garments on a 3D avatar with body features resembling their own or to scan their own body to create a 360-degree 3D model. Such technologies could help customers to make more intentional decisions and build a slower, more sustainable relationship with fashion. In addition, pre-order systems are deployed to counteract overproduction and reduce waste of resources. Offline fashion stores could take recourse to such systems by equipping retail space with virtual mirrors instead of pre-made garments and changing rooms.
Virtual fitting rooms could help online shoppers increase their purchase confidence. The questions that need to be posed in that context are as followed.
What is the most effective way to use this technology?
How can this technology transform service touchpoints?
How can this technology be explored in the future from a sustainable design perspective?
How can a virtual system be easy to use for customers?
Augmented Reality Platforms for Virtual Fitting Rooms: Publication by Kostas Kapetanakis and Ioannis Pachoulakis on Researchgate
Influence of Website Design on E-Trust and Positive Word of Mouth Intentions in E-CommerceFashion Websites: Publication by Antonio Trigo and Pedro Manuel do Espírito Santo on Researchgate
Unlocking the Potential of the Salesperson in the Virtual Fitting Room: Publication by Eirini Bazaki and Vanissa Wanick on Researchgate
User Research and Real User Problems: Improving the User Experience of Online Shopping: Publication by Lauren Ciulla on Researchgate