Virtual fitting room technologies have come a long way in recent years, thanks to myriad startups attacking the problem of figuring out whether physical stuff fits you without actually having to schlep to a store to try something on. But trying stuff on remotely remains a compromise — there’s still no substitute for the real deal. At least not yet.
And while a webcam plus computer vision tech can be used to simulate a view of what a physical thing looks like on your person — and even what wearing someone else’s face might look like (should you wish to give yourself nightmares) — poor quality renders and the uncanny valley effect continue to lend an unmistakeable sheen of unreality to the end result. Generally speaking, this stuff ends up looking creepy or comic. And the fit is by no means perfect.
Still, that’s not stopping companies trying to harness augmented reality tech to power online businesses. Bootstrapping UK luxury eyewear startup Atelier, founded in July last year, is hoping to disrupt the bespoke eyewear business by offering an entirely online service for trying and buying custom eyewear. No luxury bricks-and-mortar stores required.
The startup’s website, launched last month, includes a virtual try on interface where you can have pairs of glasses mapped onto your face in real time to get a sense for how they look, and — once you’re happy with the style/frame/lens colour — be measured for a custom fit, pay and have your glasses delivered weeks later by post, all without taking a trip outdoors.
It strikes me that if you’re planning to spend the best part of $500 on a pair of fancy specs, a trip to the store is probably not a huge barrier to shelling out serious cash for high fashion. So it’s a bit of an odd combination. But ‘ill-fitting’ is an apt associated quality for augmented reality.
I had a go at using Atelier’s virtual try on interface (currently in beta) so see whether it could persuade me to shell out serious cash for some fabulous eyewear. I don’t need to wear glasses, day to day, but the company also has a range of fancy sunglasses so there’s no shortage of eyewear to try on (virtually speaking).
In fact there are probably too many options here, with customisation choices extending to both frame and lens colours — resulting in probably thousands of combinations of specs you could own (and that’s before you’ve spent the time getting them custom measured for your face).
Does augmented reality — in the form of a real-time webcam-based face-mapping tech — help make an expensive buying decision easier? I’d argue not. The virtual try on tech here isn’t awful but it’s not amazing. It’s certainly not realistic enough in its renders to erase your niggling doubts that those red-framed specs won’t just make you look like you’re trying too hard. Or forever on your way to a costume party.
And while you’re peering at a screen with a bespectacled version of your digital self reflected back — potentially being recorded in the process, according to a warning message when you activate the virtual try on — wearing simulated ‘luxury’ eyewear that, on occasion, appears to melt into the side of your face or float a few centimeters above it, with lenses you can’t see through, well it all feels a bit ridiculous. And definitely the opposite of luxurious.
Bottom line: If consumers are being asked to spend relatively small amounts of money on clothes or accessories that can easily be sent back then an imperfect virtual fitting room is an ecommerce compromise that might well make sense. But for expensive custom kit that takes weeks to make up and be delivered, and where the mark up is high because the product and buying experience is supposed to feel luxurious, well this is probably not the tech your business should be looking for.