Online retailers increasingly incorporate technology that recreates the sensory and social experience of physical shopping.

The primary barrier to online shopping is as old as the internet itself: Consumers want to try before they buy. In few places is this felt more than in the fashion industry. While the US apparel market is valued at $359 billion, only $63 billion is sold online.

Even when the initial barrier to purchase online is overcome, getting customers to keep their orders has proved equally difficult. A newly published future of e-commerce fashion and apparel report found that the inability to physically interact with e-commerce items resulted in an online return rate as high as 50%.

Thankfully, some hope is on the horizon. Progressive retailers are increasingly incorporating technology that recreates the sensory and social experience of physical shopping, online. Here’s a look at some of the next-gen innovations that are already available or soon will be.

Capturing a 3-D perspective

Three-dimensional imaging (also known as body scanning) isn’t exactly new, but only recently has it begun overlapping with e-commerce and fashion

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The Avatar Platform from CeBIT Hewlett Packard, uses the same image-capture technology used in the movies to create a 3-D “photo booth” experience. The Platform scans a user’s body with 64 separate cameras and compiles those still images into a single 3-D model. Users can then customize their digital doppelganger with skin tone, hair color and clothing. In addition to storing each customer’s model, the Platform also integrates with purchase history and social media, so dressed-up renderings can be shared during subsequent online shopping trips.

While still in its “prototype” phase, Hewlett Packard’s Avatar Platform is one of the first 3D generators companies in ecomm, gaming, fitness and health can purchase outright.

Of course, full-scale 3-D imaging isn’t for everyone, especially for retailers that operate exclusively online or who can’t afford HP’s $135,000 price tag. But as scanning technology becomes more accessible, we’re seeing an increasing number of smartphone-based approaches to 3-D imaging in the market.

Take for example, the $52 billion footwear industry, which has seen a host of entries in the 3-D imaging space over the last two years alone. MatchMyFoot works directly through a user’s smartphone to create 3-D images of their feet and then matches their digital imprints with both the correct sizes and specific shoe models.

Smaller-scale 3D generators have begun using smartphones to shortcut the need for customers to get “onboarded” in person.

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Additionally, there are platforms that allow visitors to upload 2-D images of themselves in order to create near-lifelike 3-D renderings. Metail’s MeModel app, for instance, starts with a user-generated facial picture and body measurements—things like weight, height, hip, chest, and waist—and produces a completely online 3-D model which is up to 96% accurate.

Inside the latest “virtual fitting rooms”

Aside from 3-D modelling, another approach to closing the “try-before-you-buy” gap is increasingly sophisticated brand comparison tools. Standard sizing charts on product pages can be notoriously inaccurate. Even when detailed measurements are coordinated with sizes, customers rarely use them, instead relying on free shipping and no-hassle returns to fund their own personal at-home dressing rooms.

Some creative fixes are emerging. Shoefitr—which was acquired by Amazon last year after reducing returns by 20% for other online businesses—lets users compare the fit of their current footwear (i.e. the shoe they’re already wearing) with the exact brand and model they want to buy. Virtusize takes the same approach to garments and automatically aligns previous purchases to the sizes of items in your shopping cart.

By merging size selection and product-to-product comparisons, apps like Shoefitr are dramatically reducing returns.

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Body typing takes this one step further. Rather than leave size selection up to a buyer’s best guesses, e-commerce plug-ins like Fits Me walk visitors through a series of pop-ups that gather detailed personal feedback. Shoppers input basic measurements and are then asked to describe their body shape and even how they want their cloths to fit (from tight to relaxed). Implementation at men’s retailer Thomas Pink not only decreased returns but improved conversion by 21%.

Pop-ups provided Fits Me lead users into the perfect sizes rather than rely on traditional drop-downs or confusing charts.

As helpful as these digital size guides are, they can still come up short on the true-to-life experiential front. This is where augmented reality comes into play.

Seeing is believing with augmented reality (AR)

As far back as 2010, sneaker brand Converse, released “The Sampler” app, which invited users to test drive their sneakers, although only from a limited, overhead perspective. Today, AR is getting far more holistic. Last year, Microsoft took a giant leap into the world of e-commerce by unveiling AR-integration with Xbox One’s The Mall app that gave users the chance to see exactly what they’d look like in everything from dresses to accessories to overcoats.

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Even more recently, designer Rebecca Minkoff not only live-streamed her Fall Fashion Week show via full 360-degree virtual-reality headsets, she also launched her new line through Zeekit: an app that lets users upload full-body images and try on the new designs from within their mobile devices.

In the years ahead, expect AR and VR to continue to expand, while AI-powered personal stylists to augment the human touch may also become the norm. What’s clear above all is that e-commerce is finally catching up with its potential, giving even cautious shoppers the ability to try before they buy.

Shopify Plus is the e-commerce platform for larger retailers from Shopify Inc., the provider of e-commerce software for 12 of the Top 1000 online retailers in North America, according to Top500Guide.com.

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