AI/ML in the Fashion Retail Space Part 5
Much like any other industry, change is the only constant in fashion. However, change is more frequent and all-pervasive in the fashion industry than in any other space. Trends change at the drop of a hat, and with the barrier to entry for exhibiting your ideas and designs being lower than ever before, fashion is the space of creation and boldness. Fashion houses partner with celebrities, athletes, and independent innovators (this ranges from social media influencers to content creators, to professional gamers, to streamers, to podcasters, and even musicians.)
Investment in the fashion industry is increasing, and one of the most recent trends the domain has seen is a shift from quantity to quality, the clientele is demanding quality products, a fashion style that is geared towards convenience, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lounging has taken preference over commuting, just like NLP has witnessed explosive penetration and prominence in the COVID-19 era. This is at a micro-level.
The only comparable movement, to fashion, at the macro level, within the technology space – is innovation. Industry 4.0 can currently be seen as sort of a holy grail of innovation, 4.0 being an assortment of technologies whose impact is predicted to be as significant as the internet itself. We’ve always been taking baby steps in the direction of AI, the current output is a product of decades of research, discourse, and philosophical thought.
This is another low-key parallel to the fashion industry. Futuristic designs in fashion have been doing the rounds ever since the industry has existed, whether it be the sleek costume aesthetics of Blade Runner, or 2001: A Space Odyssey. Ironically, the latter movie features a malevolent AGI as its primary antagonist. Fortunately, we currently don’t have to deal with AI going rogue in the present day. AI’s role is that of ally and facilitator, an avant-garde branch of the technology industry, making it a perfect suitor to the fashion industry’s revolutionary philosophies.
The fifth part of this blog series by AICorespot will address the State of AI in Fashion, some more use cases, and the outlook for the technology within the domain, in addition to exploring exceptional cases of innovation in the industry.
State of AI/ML
AI/ML are a potent couple who’ve left a trail of disruption in their wake. Every industry has had its preconceived notions challenged, a globalized paradigm shift is a natural consequence of AI innovation and deployment. Personalization, anti-churn, new client acquisition, and contact-less shopping are just some of the innovations facilitated by AI and ML in fashion retail. And the best part of it is that we’re still at the nascent phases of AI development. We’re still at the cusp of a revolution, the current revolution merely being a foreshadowing of the things that are to come.
Customers in the fashion industry are exacting, they don’t like being led with their hands held. They are exacting and. They conform to devil-may-care attitudes and non-conformity, a “one size fits all” approach to managing the fashion industry’s customer base is ridiculously tone-deaf and myopic, not to mention, insulting to the strongly held beliefs of fashion clientele.
AI/ML, coupled with the potent resource of big data, paints a more private portrait of each unique customer, a portrait that is closer, or even identical to their reflection. Traditional “one size fits all” strategies, on the other hand, look at human beings and paint a portrait of a dog. This might’ve been acceptable in 1950, but unfortunately, we’re living in 2022. The shift towards personalization and client-centric experiences was predicted since, before the time of the iPhone, only arrogant and myopic companies like Blockbuster – an entity that took the market for granted failed to realize the value of the prediction.
If you don’t know Blockbuster’s story, or better yet – if you’re asking who’s ‘Blockbuster’, we wouldn’t blame you. Blockbuster’s story is a cautionary tale of taking innovation and outside-the-box thinking for granted, a story reminiscent of the rabbit and the tortoise (who won the race) from your childhood. Let us fill you in with some history – history that is quite funny. In early 2000, current market behemoth Netflix offered itself up to Blockbuster (then-DVD rental giant) for a paltry US$50 million.
Blockbuster, not seeing much potential or excitement in having Netflix as a potential collaborator dismissed the proposal. The kicker was that Netflix even offered to take up the Blockbuster name, in addition to being the minority owner (49%) of the partnership. Oof. Blockbuster got its gut-check when Netflix exploded into the scene with its affordable streaming services, further fuelled by the Android and iPhone revolution. Physical media was on its way out. Blockbuster was in trouble now.
Today, Netflix is valued at a staggering 177 billion US$. And what happened to Blockbuster? It has a total of one franchised store, in a small-time Oregon town. The story is particularly funny, and relevant to us because we can see how Blockbuster’s resistance to innovation (Netflix’s video-on-demand), especially when specialists were backing it as the next big thing is a major contributor to the downfall of Blockbuster. It’s a brilliant demonstration of survival of the fittest, the strong-willed, and noble survive, whereas the weak-willed and ignorant perish.
The analogy to be drawn here is video-on-demand’s resemblance to emergent tech in the current scenario. Statistics paint a grim picture for fashion retailers who are reluctant to adopt 4.0 deployments – and at this point, it’s sheer insanity to not hop on the AI bandwagon. Specialists reckon that statistics such as 44% of the UK’s fashion retailers facing bankruptcy are primarily due to ignorance of AI, and it would be too late for a lot of them.
Market loyalties are in a state of flux, and while brand tradition is an aspect of high-end, luxury fashion, high-street fashion and other such accessible branches are extensively leveraging AI to create their brand presence. You slip on AI integration for a couple of years, and before you know it – you’ve got four major market competitors powered by Industry 4.0 biting into a chunk of your market share and relegating you to leftovers…if that.
AI in retail – the numbers
A few numbers can speak a few thousand words. The increasing paradigm shift in client preferences towards an ever-increasing granularity and scale of customization in internet fashion retail is an impossibility to handle with no AI-driven help and associated automation processes. As we speak, a majority of clientele are managing their communications and relationships with a business with no human contact. Bots, with advancements in NLP, are becoming increasingly human-like, and while they do suffer contextually speaking and with the idea of nuance, straightforward applications in the vein of questions and answers work perfectly well.
A funny anecdote from my life. Yesterday, I spoke on the phone with a representative of a financial company. We reached an agreement regarding a certain matter and I hung up. Until now, I’m unsure if I spoke with a human being or an AI-generated voice. It was a comical experience. However, it made me think – with ideas like digital twin gaining Steam, how far away are we from interacting with ‘mechanical’ human beings, who share all our ‘human’ traits, values, beliefs, and morality, but are made of silicon? My little tangent here is to bring focus to the question, what does AI mean for the service industry?
Distrust and generational delusions
Every generation prior to us believed that the latest technological development spelled the end for the species. Of course, these are stories created from a place of misplaced nostalgia and generational delusion. The organizations from outside the tech space with older senior leaders (60+) could be resistant to change solely based on erroneous perceptions, and old wives’ tales, with much of their knowledge about AI coming from the Terminator series. Older generations have proven to have a stubborn resistance to change, while Generation Z is the exact opposite.
The newest kids on the block are very receptive to AI technologies, specifically tending to prefer customization. Older generations however are still cautious about the impact of AI on our lives. Perhaps they object to the privacy violations that are inherent to big data or do not like the shift towards a world of surveillance and extreme interconnectedness.
The reasons might be a lot simpler, the organizations that are utilizing and championing AI still haven’t identified an effective strategy to communicate the positive influence in an effective fashion, an appreciation in sales is just an outcome of the streamlined client journey and improved cumulative experience that AI confers upon organizations.
Today’s clientele wants a lot and then some from an internet-based store.
AI deployments do exactly this within the fashion retail space.
That brings us to the conclusion of the fifth part of this multi-part blog series on AI-ML in the Fashion Retailspace. What will our next part cover? We’ll keep you guessing.