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What Amazon’s Virtual Sneaker Try-ons Mean for Fashion 

by News Desk

Augmented reality shopping has become a fundamental way to buy certain products online, as beauty and furniture brands can attest. Amazon knows that, too, having for years now let customers see what a couch or table looks like in their own living rooms before buying. 

Purchasing fashion this way, however, is another story. Although AR try-ons are picking up steam in this category, especially with accessories, they’re not as fundamental to the overall fashion shopping experience. Tech makers have to work out a bevy of issues, from body sizes and shapes to believable renderings of digital cloth and physics, like gravity. Amazon should know those challenges as well, since it already offers virtual T-shirt try-ons. Developing digital garment try-ons isn’t easy — if it were, there would hardly be a need for services like Prime Try Before You Buy, née Prime Wardrobe. 

Shoes are simpler fodder for AR. So it should be no surprise that Amazon is now dipping a leather-clad toe into the mix, with virtual sneaker try-ons. 

The tech isn’t new — savvy social media users have been playing with digital kicks for years now — but that misses the point. There have been numerous one-off campaigns on different platforms, but Amazon has suddenly unleashed thousands of virtual styles across major footwear brands all at once spanning Adidas, Asics, New Balance, Puma, Reebok, Saucony and many more. The notable exception is Nike, which pulled its products from the marketplace three years ago. 

In other words, with one update the e-commerce giant is going beyond social media to bring this digital experience to a massively broad base of consumers for a high value product category. 

Think of it as a notable mainstreaming of fashion AR shopping. 

Not that it’s perfect. Sometimes the sneakers don’t sit perfectly on the foot. Turn the wrong way or too quickly, and a heel or toe peeps out. There’s also no sense of how its physical counterpart might fit on the viewer’s actual foot in real life. 

But it’s a starting point. Muge Erdirik Dogan, president of Amazon Fashion, said as much in a statement, noting that the group “looks forward to listening and learning from customer feedback as we continue to enhance the experience and expand to more brands and styles.” 

In other words, it’s a “test and learn” situation, as it has been since Amazon started dabbling with augmented reality in 2017, when the company began using Apple’s ARKit development tools to fuel furniture shopping and eventually eyeglasses.

But the interest in the tech by Amazon and others should be obvious. In 2020, a billion people used AR, with a 94 percent higher conversion rate for products with virtual experiences, according to Shopify data. And yet WBR Insights’ research revealed that just 1 percent of retailers said they had adopted mixed reality at the beginning of 2022. Sixty-three percent do plan to roll it out or at least are considering it in the next couple of years. 

Some of that momentum could come down to the metaverse or Web3 hype, as brands look to figure out their stakes in the future virtual world. But in the here and now, if AR and even VR give consumers an idea of what to expect when they receive products, it could help mitigate a whopping returns rate. As 2022 got underway, the National Retail Federation and Appriss Retail laid out a sobering view of the previous year: Apparently product returns leapt 16.6 percent on average in 2021, beating 10.6 percent the year prior and amounting to more than $761 billion in merchandise value. 

The race is on to unlock virtual fashion pursuits now, and it’s running in various corners of tech and e-commerce. While start-ups like Bold Metrics partner on visualization features and gain funding to advance its solution for remote fitting, social giants like Snapchat are diving deeply to understand digital cloth and virtual body mechanics. 

Meanwhile, Walmart, one of Amazon’s top competitors, takes another approach to visualization. In March the big-box store and e-comm rival introduced “Choose My Model” try-ons, a computer vision, neural network-powered feature that sidesteps the challenges of personalized fashion AR by letting consumers choose from 50 computer-generated models to find one that resembles them. 

That appears to be an easier and faster route than the complex affair of digital try-ons for shoes and clothes. But Amazon seems keen to crack the problem, and it’s really only just getting started. 

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