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Eoin Cambay

Why AI fitting rooms are crucial to a sustainable shop

Many of the conversations we have with fashion retailers about AI fitting rooms turn quickly to the subject of sustainability. To what extent can virtual fitting rooms help you with their sustainability goals?

Sustainability is now a top priority for retailers. Here’s why:

Retailers are almost at the end of what can be a long supply chain – something that makes acting on sustainability in a meaningful way extraordinarily challenging. For example, according to Bain, 95% of greenhouse gas emissions in retail are “Scope 3”: that is, indirect emissions not produced by the retailer itself, but produced ‘upstream’ by suppliers making products that the retailer uses or sells, and ‘downstream’ through delivery or use of those products. Quite obviously, retailers’ sustainability efforts can have only a very limited impact, unless it insists on and/or receives cooperation from both upstream and downstream supply chain partners.

But the scale of the challenge facing retailers cut little ice with modern shoppers, who – worldwide – are choosing to (and expect) to buy from retailers with a clear commitment to sustainability and transparent business practices. Shopify cites a study it commissioned from Forrester which suggested that:

  • 44% of consumers globally are more likely to buy from a brand with a clear commitment to sustainability
  • 46% of customers are more likely to purchase a product online if they’re able to recycle the product packaging
  • 50% of consumers said the ability to recycle the product once they’re done using it influenced their decision to purchase from a specific brand

A different study in the USA suggested that three-quarters of Generation Z consumers prefer to buy sustainably rather than to go for brand names.

Essentially, consumers expect to be able to buy sustainably and don’t much care about the challenges you face in making that possible. Consequently, as Bain noted in the opening line of its report: “Sustainability has leaped to the top of the agenda for retailers.”

But, with so much of “sustainability” tied up with the supply chain, demonstrating sustainability to shoppers isn’t especially straightforward.

What retailers are doing that’s visible.

Some retailers are able to execute initiatives that are sustainable and are easily seen/recognised by customers as sustainability initiatives – what Bain described as “hypervisible”. It used these examples:

Selfridges, prominently showcasing its Reselfridges preowned fashion venture both in-store and online

Crystal-clear labelling and communication to tackle consumer mistrust (as long as that labelling serves the customer and doesn’t degenerate into greenwashing). It referenced both US grocer Kroger’s nutritional rating app and Allbirds’ carbon footprint calculator for its footwear.

Stella McCartney’s mushroom-based ‘leather’ clothing

Zalando, buying second-hand items from customers for resale on its platform in some European markets, in return for store credit or a charitable donation

But most progress around sustainability takes place out of sight of shoppers, making it hard to demonstrate sustainability credentials. In this article, Shopify includes a list of 15 “actionable strategies” – however, only two of them would be immediately obvious to customers, and then only through on-site explanation!

Why AI fitting rooms are a practical sustainability initiative for operational and commercial teams

Bain, in its sustainability report, notes that “…in too many retail businesses, sustainability targets aren’t sufficiently owned by the commercial and operational teams, without whom nothing can get done at scale.” What they are talking about there is that many larger organisations have the luxury of dedicated, specialist teams responsible for sustainability initiatives – but that even this is insufficient to ensure that sustainability runs through the organisation like a strand of DNA.

For smaller organisations unable to dedicate resources to sustainability, the problem may be even more acute. What practical, visible – or hypervisible – and effective steps can commercial and operational teams take, that actually improve sustainability and can be seen by customers to improve sustainability?

Reducing returns is a clear and obvious way of being more sustainable

One of the impacts of a AI fitting room is to reduce returns for reasons of wrong fit – which, for some categories of garment can be depressingly high. Each return that is no longer needed represents an improvement to the sustainability of your operation in transportation alone – before you take into account the need to repackage, restock, or – worse – send it to landfill somewhere.

Your virtual fitting room ensures your customers can see you being more sustainable

Just as importantly, your virtual fitting room is a highly visible demonstration of your commitment to sustainability – something that can be very difficult for retailers to show. In Bain’s survey, 7% of US consumers cited a lack of trust in retailers’ claims as a barrier to them shopping sustainably.

And what’s the cost?

We also need to consider cost. In Bain’s survey, 26% of US consumers cited “high price” as a challenge to them shopping sustainably. Generally, this is because retailers incur additional costs in becoming more sustainable, which are ultimately borne by the customer in the form of higher prices.

This is not the case for AI fitting rooms, not least because the costs of operating a AI fitting room are wildly exceeded by the improvements in conversion rates - never mind the reduction in costs and loss of revenue associated with lower returns. The prices shoppers pay is the same as they were before. (You can explore, at any time, how the finances of Swan's AI fitting room will work for you, using our ROI calculator.)

While many sustainability initiatives in retail are expensive, long term or out-of-sight, deploying and maintaining a Swan AI fitting room couldn’t be simpler or more visible to your shoppers. Explore our site to find out more about just how straightforward it is. Spoiler alert: it’s via app that integrates seamlessly with your ecommerce platform.