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Does Virtual Fitting Room Tech Discourage Sales?

Apr 17, 2023

Ryan t masked

University research finds virtual fitting rooms aren’t “uniformly positive” for customers, particularly those customers with unhealthy body image perceptions.

Researchers from Iowa State, using data from an online women’s apparel website in China, found such augmented-reality technology increased sales among shoppers with a low body mass index (BMI) but decreased sales for those with a high BMI. The technology also negatively affected product evaluations and lowered the self-esteem of participants with a high BMI.

The study concluded that shoppers unhappy with their appearance might shift that negative feeling to the product and that the negative perception is stronger in virtual versus physical settings.

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“One possible reason for this: There are fewer distractions with virtual rooms,” Huifang Mao, an Iowa State marketing professor, said in a press release. “It’s just your image with the clothes and a white background. When the only thing you are looking at is your own image, you may view it with a more critical eye.”

In physical dressing rooms, there’s more “noise,” visual and audible, including the reflections from the mirrored walls and the presence of other pieces of clothing as well as music played in the store or conversations overheard from other fitting rooms.

Being able to virtually “try on” clothes has been presumed to have benefits, including reducing online returns and giving consumers the confidence to purchase. The study’s suggestions to reduce the adverse reactions related to body image issues included:

  • Priming shoppers with diversified beauty norms (eg, including models with different body sizes, shapes and ages on the website.)
  • Using a mannequin face for the avatar to create distance between the consumer and their perceived imperfections.

A Shopify article notes that other virtual fit limitations include being unable to touch the product and distrusting that virtual items look like the real product.

Last September, Walmart launched a tool that lets shoppers upload photos for virtual try-on. “This experience allows customers to use their own photo to better visualize how clothing will look on them, and creates a gamification of shopping that we believe will be very compelling to the customer,” Denise Incandela, Walmart’s EVP of apparel and private brands, said in a statement.

Amazon, Nike, Macy’s and Asos are among others introducing virtual try-on for apparel or shoes although the technology does not yet appear to be widely used.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Does it make sense that virtual fitting rooms may result in more negative experiences for shoppers than inside stores? Do you see solutions for this and other hurdles facing the adoption of virtual fitting?


“I think the biggest issue with virtual fitting rooms is the lack of trust consumers have in their accuracy.”


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