Shopping Post-COVID Gets Augmented Reality

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It will be a long time before everyday experiences go back to something like normal, but a pandemic doesn't mean our ordinary instincts go away. We still want to shop, even if access to brick-and-mortar stores is disrupted. That's been an area ripe for innovation for years, and new developments may show off what the future of trying on clothes will be like.

Researchers at Cornell University have just released a study on the state of using augmented reality for clothes-shopping. You might know AR best from Pokemon Go, but in this instance, it could help cut down on environmental waste and energy costs. The Cornell team developed a tool that allows shoppers to see a potential outfit on their bodies in real time; the program superimposes the desired item on a live image, giving users an approximate dressing-room experience even while shopping online.

The technology still has a way to go, but its intention addresses real issues. About 70 percent of clothing purchased online gets returned, since shoppers often buy multiple sizes or varieties to consider. Unfortunately, rather than pass along those items to another shopper, retailers more often than not simply dump those returns in a landfill. The wasted materials, plus the energy expenditures on shipping, create a vicious cycle of dissatisfied customers and problems for the environment. Helping online shoppers get the right fit the first time is also good for a company's bottom line. AR isn't quite ready for prime time in the world of shopping, but it's on its way — and the sooner the better.