Hello, ChatGPT. Will robots become popular in UK fashion shops?” The AI tool that has been attracting frenzied attention in recent months responds with an answer of 300 words or so that in short says: yes, probably.
The machine learning model, built by OpenAI, outlines a number of ways robots could be used in the industry. Examples include assisting in managing inventory by autonomously scanning and tracking products on store shelves, rearranging mannequins and suggesting outfits or accessories.
While the response cautions that it “can’t predict the future with certainty,” new research from fintech company Klarna suggests that in-store AI services may well be welcomed by shoppers.
Despite plenty of debate around AI’s potential impact on jobs and privacy, buy now, pay later firm Klarna found that about a third of shoppers would be open to the idea of a robot approaching them in-store to take their measurements and recommend styles. An additional 35% would consider it depending on how the robot looks and if it is polite.
In good news for the high street, the survey of just over 1000 UK consumers found 52% will still opt to shop in physical stores, rather than online, in 2041, but many want augmented reality to enhance the experience. As Klarna’s consumer lead Emily Thomas says: “It’s clear fashionistas are seriously open to the benefits tech like AI can bring.”
A global survey by Euromonitor International last year found that over 60% of apparel professionals plan on investing in AI in the next five years, a higher proportion than in other retail sectors.
Marks & Spencer is looking to have AI that gives buyers the most relevant content that could translate into more sales. It last year snapped up the intellectual property of Thread in a pre-pack administration deal, including the source code and algorithms developed by the AI-driven styling service.
The move will enhance personalisation for online shoppers, providing more tailored product recommendations and style ideas. At the time of the acquisition, M&S’ co-chief executive Kate Bickerstaffe said: “We have been working hard to deliver better, more stylish ranges and this algorithm will also put more of our great product in front of the customer.”
Hugo Boss is already using some AI, such as automating transfers between stores to match stock with the forecast demand. A spokesman for the suit seller says: “AI offers high potential for future innovations.”
Meanwhile jewellery brand Pandora, which is known for its charm bracelets and has a number of shops in London, says AI is being used more online than its stores. Francesca Contardo, e-commerce director at Pandora UK & Ireland says: “As basic practice, we’ve been using predictive intelligence to recognise customer behaviour and automate the small interactions that make the user’s experience more relevant and personalised. This includes showing customers relevant Pandora products, at the right time.” She adds that the brand is looking to develop and incorporate an AI chatbot – similar to ChatGPT – within its website that will improve the customer experience. “You can certainly expect to see more investment from Pandora in this space as AI systems become more accurate, efficient, and adaptive,” says Contardo.
Jac Windsor, head of retail at PwC UK says Gen Z (generally those born between 1997 and 2012 ) prefer to go to physical stores more than any previous generation (some 62% vs 52% average). But Windsor thinks they also want AI to feature within their visits, “from interactive dressing rooms that can recommend more options based on what you have tried on or being able to ask for a different size via the changing room mirror.”
Windsor comments: “Brands need to embrace options that are the right fit for their target audience.”
As for the chatbot, it says any adoption of robots in fashion shops will likely depend on technological advances, cost-effectiveness, and consumer acceptance. There will be plenty of retailers unready, or possibly not keen, to adopt AI, but exploring the idea looks like a trend that is gaining momentum.