AI Wants to Be Your Personal Stylist

By Chandra Steele Features PCmag

A smart stylist is like a good therapist: it takes a keen observer of the human condition to do the job right, and the results can be life-changing. But stylists are expensive—which is where artificial intelligence comes in.

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Fashion AI is subtle enough that shoppers are likely to bump into a dressed-up algorithm without knowing it. Sometimes it's a soft sell on an e-commerce site, other times it's trying to suss out how shoppers feel about items using in-store facial recognition. Amazon is even deploying Alexa to customers' closets via the Look camera, which will critique your outfit choices.

Technology has long been chipping away at the rarefied, exclusive fashion industry, from bloggers replacing fashion editors in front rows and social media stars getting backstage access at shows to street-style stars outshining supermodels and earning hefty incomes on Instagram.

Now the industry needs all the help it can get, as shoppers ditch department store credit cards for Amazon Prime memberships. Here's how AI might help you experience fashion online, at home, on your phone, and in stores.

Online

Since consumers are rarely without their mobile phones, you would think business would be booming for online fashion retailers. But as The Washington Post reports, it can be difficult to compete for shoppers' eyeballs.

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Despite some setbacks, subscription-box services saw a 3,000 percent increase in site visits from 2013 to 2016. Stitch Fix, for example, calls itself "your online personal stylist"; customers fill out a style questionnaire so that its stylists can build a wardrobe for shoppers. The Ask an Expert Stylist feature also delivers fast responses to style dilemmas.

The information customers send to Stitch Fix, however—including personal notes—first gets dissected by AI. A team of people then use the data to select items, Harvard Business Review reports. The AI learns from the choices made by stylists, but it also monitors the stylists themselves, judging whether their recommendations are well-received by customers and figuring out what information and how much is needed for stylists to make quick and effective style choices. One measure of Stitch Fix's success will be its closely watched steps toward an IPO.

Similarly, Propulse works to identify the qualities shoppers are drawn to as they browse items on fashion retailer sites like Frank and Oak. The company was founded by Eric Brassard, who formerly worked in database marketing at Saks, and his platform adapts results to the cut, colors, and patterns that customers prefer.

"If you have history because you shop that shop, assuming that it's a real store and you bought a few things, we create a personalized page with products you've never seen that match the taste of what you browsed and what you bought," Brassard says.

For sales associates who are new to the field or a store, Propulse has an in-store component that lets them input customer preferences and matches those with products.

In Stores

A hovering salesperson might not be the only one monitoring your in-store activity. Cloverleaf's AI system, dubbed shelfPoint, scans customers via sensors that assess the age, gender, ethnicity, and emotional response of shoppers and then communicates targeted sales messages at them through an LCD.

ShelfPoint is found mostly in grocery stores, but Cloverleaf CEO Gordon Davidson says the company has had discussions with retailers that sell groceries and apparel in their stores. It's also a good way to collect data without requiring shoppers to download an app, take a survey, or otherwise interact with a gadget, Davidson says.

The future of shelfPoint partly lies in turning the information it gathers into recommendations for shoppers. "Now what we're looking at is, how do we start providing more benefit to the shopper? It knows that I'm picking up blue jeans as an example and it may come up and say, 'Hey, have you considered a new brown belt?'" Davidson suggests.

Davidson isn't ready to give up on physical stores. "In reality, when you look at the research Gartner came up with earlier this year, 80 percent of sales still happen in brick-and-mortar, especially in the fashion side of things," he said. "Brick-and-mortar are still going to be around some time."

At Home

It's one thing to get advice when you're shopping online or browsing in a store. But when you wake up, get dressed, and face that mood where nothing looks right, there's nothing like a second opinion to set you straight so you can walk out the door. The Amazon Echo Look is just that. The camera-centric version of the Echo's main feature is Style Check. It uses AI and stylists to choose between two outfits based on trends and what it finds flattering on you.

Amazon will not divulge what information goes into the algorithm behind Style Check but the artificial intelligence doesn't work solo. Style Check also uses fashion specialists on its own staff who have backgrounds in fashion, retail, editorial, and styling. An Amazon spokesperson said they focus on fit, color, styling, and current trends. Though Style Check customers can expect a response in about a minute, every verdict includes input from a human stylist. But there are some tasks that the Echo Look handles without a human co-worker.

The Echo Look goes above and beyond what an in-store stylist would do for you and goes full celebrity stylist in two ways: it creates a lookbook of what you've worn and it takes flattering full-length photos that are super shareable. This means that not only is technology coming for the job of stylists, but Instagram husbands better watch out, too.

This article originally appeared on PCMag.com.