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Virtual Dressing Room to Increase Sales During COVID-19

virtual dressing room

COVID-19 has changed the way people worldwide behave daily, and nowhere is this felt more keenly than in bricks-and-mortar retail. For decades, retailers have been trying various customer engagement strategies to bring people in and let them browse samples and linger to their heart’s content. But the pandemic has made nearly all those experiences risky and undesirable. Personal safety wins out of the desire to try on clothing, jewelry, makeup, and other wearable products.

Increasingly, with COVID-19, retail businesses are turning to virtual dressing rooms as an alternative for their customers.

A virtual dressing room allows a user to upload a video of themselves and then renders an Augmented Reality image of the person modeling their perspective items.

Certain sectors of the retail industry have already been embracing Augmented Reality dressing rooms, most notably the cosmetics and jewelry industries. But many more retail sectors are adopting virtual dressing rooms, and the pandemic has accelerated the process greatly.

Artificial Intelligence in Virtual Dressing Rooms

Like many digital business applications, virtual dressing rooms are driven by recent advances in technology, from AR and VR to Artificial Intelligence. In fact, technology is advancing so quickly that one of the barriers to adoption is simply that many people don’t realize how good virtual dressing rooms can be if they’ve never tried one before.

But more and more consumers are trying them and generally like their experiences. As a result, the virtual dressing room market looks to have staying power even after COVID-19 becomes less of a clear-and-present threat. By 2027, the virtual dressing market is projected to be a $10 billion industry.

Virtual Dressing Rooms Becoming Mainstream

For several years, certain retailers have toyed with virtual dressing room solutions and related apps, although frequently, these have been limited in scope and with mixed results. However, the combination of technology-driven increases in quality and the pandemic driving customers away from physical store locations has led to a significant uptick in virtual dressing room adoption.

Global retail giants like Macy’s and Adidas have led the way in virtual dressing room implementation, with many smaller retailers following suit.

Amazon is also involved in virtual dressing room development, as its online retail model continues to gobble up market share.

For many retailers, embracing virtual dressing rooms is a necessity right now. They’ve blocked off their physical dressing rooms and forbade customers to handle merchandise like they once did out of fears that these behaviors will spread COVID-19. And many customers simply aren’t coming out to stores regardless.

In today’s retail landscape, the virtual dressing room represents an opportunity to recapture some of the lost business that’s crushing most retailers’ profit margins.

How Virtual Dressing Rooms Work

From a technical standpoint, the two broad technologies pivotal to the virtual dressing room are Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence. These are huge domains that stretch far beyond the scope of a virtual dressing room solution, and it’s useful to understand just how these technologies apply here.

The virtual dressing room process begins with video capture of the person who will be trying on the virtual item. Often, the recording device is a mobile smartphone. A smartphone is an ideal vehicle because it contains both the camera to capture video and a screen to display the AR image of the person/body part with the wearable item modeled.

The video is parsed by human pose estimation algorithms that identify a range of key points or locators on the human body, which allow the application to understand the contours, size, and spatial location of the person. Often, AI deep learning routines are used to make these determinations. The accuracy of these AI-driven processes can be far superior to a human programmed process, allowing for far greater fidelity in virtual dressing room development.

Once the body’s dimension and location are fixed, the application then appends the item of clothing or accessory to the image on the screen, allowing the user to model that item virtually in a 3-D, photorealistic display.

Pros and Cons of Virtual Dressing Rooms

Like any business or technological innovation, virtual dressing rooms have their advantages and disadvantages when compared to the traditional model.

It’s important to grasp that virtual dressing room technology continues to develop and evolve, and as the process continues the industry will change. Former drawbacks may be mitigated, and advantages may heighten as supporting technology improves.

But even as some problems may fade in relevance, others may develop. The following pros and cons represent a snapshot of the short — and medium-term projections for the virtual dressing room landscape.

Benefits of Virtual Dressing Rooms

The most obvious benefit to a virtual dressing room is giving the customer the ability to sample and model products remotely. But for this to be worthwhile, the AR rendering has to be realistic enough to be useful. If a user doesn’t feel comfortable with the image they’re seeing, a virtual dressing room is a failure.

Fortunately, the science of capturing the human body and rendering it in a virtual environment is one that engineers and developers are devoting massive amounts of time and resources to. While virtual dressing rooms aren’t the most important or lucrative application of these processes, we reap the rewards of that development and innovation.

The real game-changer is the implementation of artificial intelligence in the video capture and rendering process. Deep learning algorithms can estimate and display the user’s full body, face, head, hands, feet, or any other specific body area with rapidly increasing clarity and accuracy.

This is taking us toward the point where the average shopper regards a virtual dressing room as roughly equivalent in quality to the physical experience. Once we’ve achieved that benchmark, the traditional dressing room is nearly entirely obsolete.

Potential Drawbacks to Virtual Dressing Rooms

Many of the current drawbacks to virtual dressing rooms are temporary issues likely to be addressed in the coming years.

People are excellent judges of the human form, especially their own. If a virtual dressing room image has minor imperfections, this can detract from the immersive experience and leave a customer uncertain about whether they can trust what they’ve seen.

In some cases, virtual dressing room solutions are close but to quite up to the highest standard, meaning that customers would prefer traditional ones if given a choice.

During this pandemic, virtual dressing rooms receive a bump simply by being the only realistic option for people looking to minimize their COVID-19 risk. However, at some point in the next year or so, countries will begin to get the pandemic under control via the release of vaccines.

At this point, the question is whether virtual dressing rooms will offer a seamless and accurate experience, one good enough to keep people using them when life can return more to normal. This is where the industry will be continuing to focus.

One final potential drawback worth mentioning is that virtual dressing rooms can pose a data security issue. The process captures users’ face and body data and background images from wherever the user is filming.

It would be possible for a developer to engineer a virtual dressing room solution that pulls biometrical data and geolocation data from its users. That data could then be used to create profiles of those users, allowing third parties to use this info in a variety of ways.

This particular concern is a universal one in our increasingly digital world, far from unique to virtual dressing rooms. But the video data captured here is particularly intimate, and users may have special concerns.

In 2020, the advent of COVID-19 has reshaped the retail landscape in a seismic way. Consumers avoid stores and businesses find the physical process of trying on and sampling wearable items riskier. In this environment, virtual dressing rooms are being adopted more and more.

But the virtual dressing room concept is more than just a quick-fix workaround for the pandemic. Hand-in-hand with the rise of online retail, virtual dressing rooms have the potential to supplant the traditional dressing room. As AI technology matures, a larger group of consumers will likely find themselves using virtual dressing rooms even afterlife returns more to normal.

The post Virtual Dressing Room to Increase Sales During COVID-19 appeared first on ReadWrite.

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How Face AR Brings Confidence to Video Conferencing

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We’re all different and we’re all human beings, individuals locked in a body. The only way we can understand each other is by communicating. If only it were that simple. It’s hard enough in real life, but even more difficult with digital communication, especially the near-ubiquitous video conferencing. Face AR technology can help us.

We struggle to work out whether we trust someone when we’ve met them a few minutes earlier on a screen. We wonder whether the person enthusiastically talking to the camera thousands of miles away is pitching an idea they know very well is utter rubbish. Whether their poor performance in a job interview is a result of nerves. Whether our view of them and what they say is clouded by our deep prejudices.

There is fear and embarrassment when we turn on video conferencing. Trust and empathy are harder to achieve. What is true; what is a lie? These contradictions make video conferencing an awkward chore rather than a useful tool to do business and hire talent. Yet video is essential to modern business when companies are spread over the globe.

Feeling Confident During Your Video Calls With Face AR Technology.
Feeling Confident During Your Video Calls With Face AR Technology. Image source: pexels.com

Pressure on time, budgets and the planet mean traveling is harder to justify. That means making decisions, planning strategy, pitching for business, and hiring staff has to be done remotely. And it is not working.

That, I believe, is about to change. Augmented Reality (AR) may well provide the answers. But beware. In the future, you will probably get hired through AR. You can also get fired by it.

Never ready for our close-up

With all the pressure described above, it’s hardly surprising that the seemingly innocuous sentence, “So shall we switch video conferencing on?� makes even the most hard-bitten executives wince.

For all of us, bar the least self-aware and the most annoyingly attractive, audio-only seems the sensible solution for long-distance conferencing.

But why are we coy about video calls? The answer is a bitter experience. First, the cameras present us in harsh, bright light, at unusual angles, blown up on a PC screen.

Second, people can see the background — not good if you haven’t tidied your desk/home office/spare bedroom. Not to mention children, cats and dogs stumbling into view.

We might have chuckled at the plight of Professor Robert Kelly, whose BBC interview was famously interrupted by an inquisitive toddler, but what made it car-crash viewing was knowing how easily a similar calamity could happen to us.

Concerns about how we present ourselves make us so nervous that we don’t articulate our thoughts as fluently and accurately as we might. It’s hard enough if you have a job with the company. What if this is your job interview? Multinationals hire around the world and applicants can expect to be interviewed by people in multiple international locations.

Looking good for the 9 am thanks to Face AR

Banuba labs, the company of which I am a Managing Director, has devoted much research to solving these problems. And they are eminently fixable. For most people, the key issue is controlled. If they can present themselves digitally in the way they want to be perceived, rather than be a slave to the idiosyncrasies of the camera, they will be relaxed and engaging.

Looking_good_in_front_of_the_camera
Looking good in front of the camera. Image source: pexels.com

Here is where Face AR, an augmented-reality technology that enables its users to finesse their image via a camera, can prove to be a lifesaver. Video Face Beautification technology can tweak video-conference participants’ images in sophisticated ways.

On a basic level, this can be by adjusting the lighting and slight face enhancements. It is useful for everyone. From people who need to make video calls but don’t have the time to apply make-up, to those of us who just want a shinier, smarter version of ourselves.

As for the background of your room – by using video background changer technology you can now easily hide it for privacy purposes or change it for entertainment.

Make it avatar to avatar with Face AR

If you are still not convinced, then how about replicating yourself in an avatar? You can talk to an avatar (who is a real person) and be an avatar yourself, and feel both comfortable and human.

What about the customary handshakes that open and close all business conversations or interviews? AR representations of people’s tracked hands could act as a personal way to make first impressions or end on a high after a lengthy discussion. Even if the technology isn’t quite there to feel someone’s touch via this type of software, it will surely function as a good icebreaker before commencing a conversation.

Creating your own avatar with Face AR.
Creating your avatar with Face AR. Image source: banuba.com

Pity the poor job applicant

The fear and awkwardness engendered by the current generation of video conferencing are bad enough for staff, but it is much worse for job applicants. Even the greatest technology companies admit they have hiring problems.

Google has made huge efforts to change its staff demographics, but the numbers remain steadfastly in favor of Caucasian men, with nearly 70 percent male and 53 percent white, according to its 2018 diversity report. One Google staffer notoriously claimed in an internal memo that the lack of female engineers was down to biological differences rather than discrimination.

Google is not alone. If we are honest, we would all admit that we tend to hire in our image. We find it easier to empathize with people like us. We also tend to hire people who are outgoing, confident and speak well. Clever introverts miss out.

Again, Face AR has a solution. And it is one that is not possible with face-to-face interviews. Face AR can remove or disguise all background information. That could include race, age, gender, voice, general facial expression and nervous ticks. It would truly be a blind interview.

Only then would it be possible to hire purely based on talent, imagination, intelligence and character. It might sound an extreme approach, but it is clear that diversity policies are failing to change the demographics of our great companies.

If brands are to be truly representative of their global audiences, then they must start again. Technology makes that possible.

So you really can be hired by augmented reality. But get it wrong and you could be fired by augmented reality, too.

The post How Face AR Brings Confidence to Video Conferencing appeared first on ReadWrite.