With speakers from ASOS and Cortexica, FashTech’s latest event, held at ASOS HQ, attracted an audience eager to learn about the latest innovation in retail experience. Branding themselves as ‘’the leading fashion image recognition company’’, Cortexica have teamed up with online high street giant ASOS to introduce the most up to date e-commerce experience.
Andrea Trocino, ASOS’ very own app innovator began the evening with an insightful and informative explanation of retail success through apps, before Alistair Harvey outlined the pioneering concept of Cortexica’s ‘visual search’ technology.
As a company existing solely on the realms of web-based technology, it seemed only natural for ASOS to create an app for an even easier, and more personal, shopping experience. This invention, however, required more than a simple transition from browser based e-commerce into instantaneous app development. Throughout a presentation fuelled by tag-line worthy quotes such as ‘kill the keyboard’ and ‘fight for the home screen’, the depth of research by ASOS into consumer behaviour, shopping experience, and the success of apps was intriguing. With initially a budget only able to cover iPhone and Blackberry apps, it was very important for the developers to minimize potential pitfalls of shopping apps.
Having identified the benefits of having an app; an instant, responsive and personal domain through which customers can experience a brand, ASOS development team had to consider ways in which they could optimize their mobile identity.
Whilst ensuring the app was reminiscent of browser based features such as extensive content, easy navigation, and ‘pixel perfection’, the app creators decided to focus on the importance of data. This is the key element of e-commerce in ensuring customer personalisation. Much like mobile devices themselves, shopping habits are personal to each individual. Often going hand in hand with lifestyle choices, the shops people browse in, and garments they tend to buy can be accounted for by a number of reasons. Whilst elements such as size, age, and gender are obvious components, more recent considerations such as location, behaviour and interests have been integrated into app-based shopping through features such as push notifications. For example, by identifying the importance of external factors such as weather, latest app features are programmed to introduce product suggestion in sync with these ideas. The success exists in syncing all elements of life, to create an altogether easier product experience, as identified with ASOS’ speaker’ ideals that ‘we live in the product age, not the project age’.
The notion of personalisation through mobile experience is something which can also be compared to News apps such as FlipBoard, where users can pick and choose the information they would like to know about, and cover stories may be advertised to them according to their determined interests. The benefit of such functions within e-commerce is that, much like having a personal stylist, app personalisation will also archive your consumer behaviour, and make product suggestions based on body data such as size and shape, in terms of what will be flattering. This function, it was noted in the presentation, is something which is highly likely to appeal to a male customer who does not actively enjoy the traditional shopping experience. However, whilst these adjustments seem to be beginning to create solutions to issues based around web-based shopping, the notion of actively viewing products seemed to be incomparable to the in store experience, until recently.
Whilst push notifications and app alerts may be reminiscent of in-store advertisements and sales advisor contributions, the ability to search or browse for products can sometimes be problematic on mobile devices. This element of the shopping experience should of course be one of the main alterations to retail which is improved in terms of ease and quickness. The type of difficulties that have been identified include issues of search definition, as a retailer’s requirements to list a pink maxi dress as ‘’plunge neck ruched pale rose maxi dress’’ for example, can create difficulties within the customer search bar.
This is where Cortexica’s concept of ‘Visual Search’ has benefits, as their speaker, Alastair Harvey, introduced how the brand was in the process of ‘shaping shopping’. Whilst we are currently accustomed to the input of text while searching, Cortexica have detected that we are ‘’visually orientated’’, and that using images is a ‘’very human way of communicating’’. Although this idea may seem confusing in terms of actual benefit, given examples of taking images of other’s clothing, be it a stranger on the street, or a screenshot of a celebrity online, the idea of visual search is something which can add a new realm to our browsing abilities.
Again, whilst we may be familiar with searching, for example, by colour, the technology involved in Cortexica’s visual search, allows for image detection of texture, print, style and fabric without any need for specific words. Much like the ASOS developers, it is clear that Cortexica have done a lot of research into consumer desires. Whilst the example images of visual search technology are reminiscent of somewhat intimidating 3D body scanners, the tech developers have equally considered customer enjoyment and accessibility. Not dissimilar to existing ‘look book’ style archival images already existing within e-commerce, the visual search developers saw the importance of being able to create personal inventories which include images taken by users, as well as existing online images. This has the added benefit of being able to visually construct outfits, with the assistance of in-app technology. In the same way as push notifications, the app will also suggest, for example, a pair of shoes and a jacket to go with the image of the dress you just took. Combined with your input about individual factors such as taste, weather, and location, it is likely that you will quickly achieve a transaction comparable to that as of a result of excellent customer service.
As a company priding themselves on being at the forefront of innovation, Cortexica were well equipped to answer questions from the concluding Q&A session. They were able to reassure audience members of new elements such as a ‘universal shopping bag’, which acts a virtual wardrobe. With 38% of UK smartphone users regularly making online purchases, compared with 46% in the US and 73% in China, this percentage seems only likely to grow, as the fusion of science and fashion continues to revolutionize the shopping experience. Whilst it seems the only thing left unanswered is the solution to a virtual changing room, I suppose the only question I would like to ask Cortexica now is: where on earth can I get those shoes?
Abi Buller is Ba (Hons) Creative Direction for Fashion student at London College of Fashion, with a strong interest in culture, arts and media. @abi_buller