The Virtual Feature That Could Seriously Change Online Clothes Shopping

You probably haven't been to the mall, or to your favorite department store in a while. We haven't either — which is why so many retailers are in financial trouble as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. But just because we haven't been going out doesn't mean we haven't been shopping, and our shift to online shopping is giving retailers an opportunity to experiment with virtual dressing rooms. "The benefits of virtual fitting rooms during a pandemic are clear — lower risk of exposure to COVID-19 and the ease of getting fitted from home," marketing executive Ben Parr tells Business Insider. "I think it will surprise many Americans that, in 2020, this technology is quite sophisticated and shockingly accurate. This will result in the continued spike of e-commerce sales that we've seen throughout the pandemic."

There are a few problems with the innovation. Many of us haven't really thought about trying things on virtually before. Still, it appears shoppers are willing to give the technology a try, and one company, Zeekit, which is partnering with retailers to offer the virtual dressing room service, says its retail partners have seen return rates drop by as much as 36 percent as a result of using their online fitting room experience. 

Trying things online may expose you to some risk

There could be trade-offs, too. Privacy experts have told The Washington Post that going into an online dressing room can also leave a trail of personal data, which can also give retailers (and developers) access to information about a customer's shopping habits, as well as their lifestyle. "This is data that companies are obviously very interested in. You think they're taking your image and measuring your size, but the data being collected could be used for many different purposes. Once measured, once stored, it doesn't easily fade away," Patrick Van Eecke, who looks at global data protection and privacy for law firm DLA Piper, says. 

Then there is the worry that an app that can collect details about your body type can be examining your surroundings to try and sell you other products. But that doesn't change the fact that shoppers are keen to go online to try things on, particularly because of the pandemic. One augmented reality executive says shoppers are more likely to buy something if they are able to try it on online. They also spend more and and are likely to return anything.

Whether online fitting rooms and virtual sampling of things like makeup and art continue to be a thing once the pandemic dies down is anyone's guess. "Some of these innovations will stick post-pandemic, and others will be a flash in the pan unless they create meaningful improvements in the shopping experience and deliver on their original promises," tech CEO Jonathan Treiber says (via Business Insider).