Using artificial intelligence, the new store can recommend your next outfit. Source: Alibaba

Alibaba breathes new life into fashion retail

IN recent years, tales of a “dying retail” has populated multiple media publications. As the world becomes more digital, consumers are showing a preference to shop for fashion apparel, amongst other things, online rather than brick-and-mortar stores.

While a dying retail may be slightly over-exaggerated, the magnitude of disruption over the last decade is indisputable.

The past year has witnessed a huge amount of store closures of big companies, including famous toy retailer Toys R Us who filed for bankruptcy protection in late 2017.

Many large brands have been forced to close their stores due to fierce online competition. Source: Shutterstock

So, does the future of shopping belong to e-commerce? Is traditional retail as we truly know it really heading for the coffin?

Many would argue no. According to PwC’s latest report, “The New Retail Ecosystem: From Disrupted to Disruptor,” the physical store is celebrated as a key retail component.

According to the report, the new retail ecosystem is a combination of physical, digital, and complementary service offerings which will attract and retain today’s digitally savvy consumers.

A company paving the way in creating a truly immersive experience across all channels is China’s e-commerce giant, Alibaba.

The company showcased its first “FashionAI” concept store in Hong Kong on Wednesday, which aims to provide stress-free solutions to shoppers with the help of artificial intelligence.

The pilot store, which is open for just a short time from Thursday through to Saturday at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, showcases U.S. fashion brand Guess apparel through different technological innovations.

One of these innovations is the “smart mirror”, which displays information related to the product on a nearby screen as shoppers are touching or picking up a piece of clothing.

Alibaba’s smart mirror can make outfit recommendations to shoppers. Source: Alibaba

Each garment has its own intelligent lock, supported by radio-frequency identification, gyro-sensors, and Bluetooth low-energy chips. This allows the smart mirror to accurately capture the movement of the fashion item and automatically display it.

Not sure what to pair with those jeans? No bother- allow the smart mirror to make mix-and-max recommendations to you using AI and machine learning, pointing to where the suggested items can be found in the store.

“FashionAI embodies our thinking of what the future of fashion retail could look like, and an exploration of using technologies to better understand and cater to consumers’ fashion needs,” said Zhuoran Zhuang, Vice President, Alibaba Group.

“With the latest AI technologies, like machine learning and computing vision, FashionAI can now recommend items that match your personal style.”

“That gives imagination to consumers and injects new ideas into fashion brands and retailers to rethink their business and sales models. Leveraging AI in fashion, therefore, offers many untapped opportunities for fashion retailers,” explained Zhuang.

This latest project by Alibaba truly epitomizes the new model for the digitization of fashion retail.

So, is retail dead?

Certainly not. Rather, brick-and-mortar stores must realize the need to adopt technology in order to breathe new life into traditional offline retailing.

Retailers should take a leaf out of Alibaba’s playbook, leveraging emerging technology such as artificial intelligence and machine learning in order to provide consumers with ease, convenience, and choice.