Could Augmented Reality Be the Future of Online Fashion?
At the beginning of this year, when outlining our digital predictions for 2011, we expected that brands would move from employing augmented reality for pure entertainment and explore ways in which it could be used to deliver genuine utility for their customers. Online fashion retailer Banana Flame has done just that, with the help of a web application created by Zugara.The concept of augmented reality is simple – taking real world images, usually viewed via a webcam or mobile phone camera, and adding a ‘layer’ of computer-generated information to ‘augment’ the reality. In practical terms, AR software works by ‘recognising’ something in the real world - usually a symbol the consumer is instructed to hold up in front of their webcam or phone. This recognition activates the computer-generated data, usually images, and renders them as part of the ‘real’ image.To date, AR has been used primarily to entertain and to position brands as innovative and cutting edge. With a few notable exceptions, little has been done to demonstrate that the technology has a commercial future But Zugara's application takes a large step in the right direction.Whilst browsing items on the Banana Flame website, visitors see a 'Got a webcam? See how it looks' button. Clicking this button downloads the application which starts up the visitor's webcam.The visitor then sees the item - be it a top, a jacket or a dress - superimposed over their image on the webcam. If they step back 4-5 ft from their computer, the application picks up their body position and automatically positions and re-sizes the garment as appropriate. Controls activated by waving hands over virtual buttons onscreen allow the user to re-size the garment or move it up or down to fit their outline and to take pictures which they can share with their friends on social networking sites.The 3 tests of any augmented reality application are convenience, context and utility - does it require the minimum effort to use, is the reality being enhanced relevant and does it provide genuine utility? I think Zugara's application ticks all 3 boxes.The application was fast to download, although once downloaded it wasn't without it's idiosyncracies. It clearly uses the eyes to identify the position of the visitor, so those wearing glasses have to remove them (although glasses can be replaced once the application has 'found' you so you can actually see the garment in situ) and some of the 'virtual buttons' were difficult to operate. Also, the better quality of the webcam, the more visitors are going to get out of the experience - my grainy version made if difficult to envisage exactly what the clothes were going to look like on me.The likely benefit for Banana Flame is online buzz - there's no doubt the application is exceptionally clever and fun to use - and perhaps less sales but less returns too, as the application allows users to make a more informed choice about what they order.Clearly, this is no substitute for visiting a store and trying clothes on for real, but if augmented reality is going to 'catch on' in the fashion world, it's applications like Zugara's that are going to lead the way.