If you’re like me, you do much of your shopping these days online, particularly when it comes to refreshing your wardrobe. Who has time to spend hours scouring the racks and test-driving your finds in the fitting room? For many of us, regular stops at the mall have become a thing of the past. Thanks to an array of mobile devices and the ability to shop with brands all over the country and beyond, it’s becoming easier and easier to get what you want with just a few quick clicks. But I must admit there’s still something to be said for actually trying on that cute new jacket and pairing it with a number of options in the store until you find the perfect look. It’s not just a matter of being able to see how the items work together. There is also the issue of sizing – no two retailers size clothing exactly the same way. The ease of shopping online disappears quickly if you have to return items. So how do retailers bridge this gap between the desire to “experience” an item before buying it and the growing trend toward online shopping? Some have already begun to realize this need, introducing a variety of options via virtual reality to give customers that unique and personalized shopping experience. But is there a return on an investment like this? I think so. A 2015 report by Walker Sands found that 35% of customers would shop more online if they were able to try items on virtually.

It’s Already Starting in Stores

The early attempts at “virtual fitting” have been implemented in stores. As we shared in “Stores of the Future” Offer the Latest in Retail Technology, Rebecca Minkoff’s flagship New York City store in Soho offers shoppers a complimentary glass of champagne as they try Rebecca’s favorite designs in smart fitting rooms. These rooms are equipped with an interactive mirrored video wall that allows customers to control mood lighting and notify an associate via touchscreen when they need a new size or different color. Shoppers also see personalized recommendations and can save their fitting room session if they’re feeling indecisive. CEO and Founder Uri Minkoff noted that stores with this technology sell three times more apparel. “All of a sudden, 35 to 40% of the people in the fitting room are asking for additional items,” Minkoff said during Shoptalk earlier this year. Using augmented reality, virtual clothing can even be superimposed onto a shopper’s mirror image. Forbes.com noted that in select locations, Macy’s Inc. offers options to ‘try on’ an outfit in every available color, find an exact size, and get suggestions of items to pair with it by superimposing the clothing onto the user. Nordstrom also rolled out a full-length mirror with an interactive screen in two of its stores. According to Fortune magazine, the technology, designed by eBay, allows the customer to browse items and read product reviews, much like they would online. It also features a barcode scanner to check in-store availability and lets shoppers request items to be brought to the fitting room.

But Will It Work Online?

While these innovative technologies are beginning to satisfy the craving for personalized shopping experiences in-store, can this type of service translate to the online marketplace? A few companies are certainly trying to make that happen. Acustom Apparel, a New York City-based startup that offers “digital bespoke menswear,” uses an in-store scanner to create a digital profile of someone’s entire body shape from 200,000 data points. According to PWC, the resulting 3D body model, combined with the customer’s choice of fit, materials and features, enables the company to produce entirely bespoke clothing. While customers can take advantage of this convenience in the store, the benefits continue online as there’s no need to be concerned with sizing issues anymore. This personalized experience and confidence in shopping with the brand will likely lead to a deeper sense of customer loyalty as well. Virtual dressing room technology company Zugara offers a variety of options, including Webcam Social Shopper software that allows a shopper to use their webcam as “a magic mirror” to try on items virtually. A woman can hold a likeness of a dress in front of her, just as she would in a store, and immediately know if the item’s style and color is right for her. She can “try on” everything from clothing to jewelry, glasses, watches, purses and more within a video feed and use gestures, motion and voice control to interact with and buy items directly within the interface. She can even take pictures to share with her friends. The product can be used with a variety of video feeds, so eventually, friends in different locations could “shop” together, giving feedback and recommending items, making Internet-connected shopping a truly social experience from any device.

What’s In It for Retailers?

Sure, these new technologies don’t come without an initial investment and some training costs, and it’s likely there would be a lot of trial and error for a brand’s IT teams to get it to work as desired, but consider all the rewards. If done well, customers will have a better shopping experience. These days, it’s all about personalization and reaching consumers where they prefer to shop. If I know I can browse and buy from the convenience of my own home, avoid the long lines and perilous parking lots, and still feel confident that I’m going to end up with something I’m truly happy with, I’ll definitely give it a try. And selling consumers clothing that fits pays off well beyond customer loyalty. It can also mean real cost savings for retailers. If more customers are satisfied with their online orders, retailers will start to save on return shipping costs. They’ll also save in the long run, because as more consumers transition to online shopping, retailers will need less real estate and can keep less inventory on the sales floor. And the increase in conversion rates, thanks to fewer returns, is definitely a win. Virtual and augmented reality used to be the stuff of science fiction, but that’s all starting to change. Many agree that virtual dressing rooms will play a critical role in retail’s multi-channel future. What about you? Are you ready to dive in?