Research Paper: Online Shopping Technologies

If you’re a frequent online shopper, you’ll relate to this scenario: You’re this close (I’m talking THIS CLOSE) to buying that cheap, on-trend shirt, or that cute, but impractical pair of shoes, only to falter at the last minute, succumbing to your fear that it just won’t fit or look right, and quickly exiting out of the webpage. It’s ok– we’ve all been there. What’s important, however, is that our most beloved fashion brands and retailers KNOW that we’ve been there; and, they also know why we do this.

This phenomenon, called “shopping cart abandonment,” has been attributed to what is recognized in the fashion industry as “the major and undeniable disadvantage in online apparel shopping:” namely that we, the customers, cannot physically try on and interact with the clothing before making a purchase (Colombi, et al., 392). After all, it’s hard to justify purchasing a piece of clothing that we haven’t seen or felt it, yet alone tried it on!

If you were to ask any fashion retail company to describe their ultimate goal in terms of online shopping they would say something like this: that each time we visit their websites, we confidently proceed to checkout with shopping carts ‘filled’ to the brim. So, how exactly do these fashion companies seal the deal with their customers, so to speak, while being up against the many shortcomings of shopping online?

Well, armed with the knowledge that clothing is a “high-involvement product category” that is closely linked to personal ego and feelings of fantasy and pleasure, fashion companies have rapidly incorporated interactive digital technologies, such as augmented reality and 3D virtual models, into their online shopping platforms (Blázquez, 98). Such advancements are designed to reduce the risk associated with shopping online and cultivate a pleasant shopping experience, urging online customers to take the ultimate plunge and hit ‘purchase’ (Blázquez, 97; Colombi, et al., 391). Moving forward, I will consider the importance of the shopping experience in fashion retail and explore the innovative technologies and techniques companies are implementing to connect with their customers and create a dynamic, interactive online atmosphere.

To understand just how crucial the ‘experience’ is in fashion retail, I would first like to briefly examine what goes into cultivating the perfect in-store experience. Doing so will establish a useful benchmark for comparison and also allow us to determine if online technologies are effectively bridging the gap between in-store and online retail channels.

You may not have ever stopped to consider this, but every store you have walked into and perused has a carefully curated aesthetic that sends you design, ambient, and social cues. Design cues are the exquisitely outfitted mannequins arranged into inviting window displays, or the alluring, envy-inducing ad campaigns that are plastered on the store’s walls. Social cues are the friendly employees who cheerfully ask “Can I help you with anything?,” and the other customers who wander the store and flick through the racks. Ambient cues are the catchy songs that ring overheard, the bright lights that draw you towards the clothing, and the seamless layout of the store. Together these cues comprise the atmospherics, or “conscious designing of a space,” which influence the behavior of you, the buyer. (Blázquez, 98). Fashion retail companies pour endless amounts of time and money into developing these atmospherics because they want to imbue their stores with a hedonic shopping value, which is “the value received from the multi-sensory, fantasy, and emotive aspects of the shopping experience” (Blázquez, 101). Driven by fantasy and pleasure, the hedonic shopping value is the ‘holy grail’ of both the in-store and online shopping experience; it is what prompts us to justify dropping more money than we would care to admit on that pair of jeans because they are just. so. cool. and we just HAVE to have them.

While the hedonic shopping value is more easily achieved in brick-and-mortar stores, this has not stopped fashion retailers from attempting to prompt pleasure-driven shopping online. How do they do this, you ask? Well, in addition to introducing visual merchandizing cues, such as color palettes that convey the brand’s aesthetic, and atmospheric features like intro videos that showcase their apparel, fashion retailers are integrating digital interactive technologies into e-shopping that recreate the in-store multi-sensory atmosphere and allow for customer interactivity (Colombi, et al., 392).

So lets dive in! On the most basic end of the digital technology spectrum is image enlargement, which is what we would call a low-level image interactivity technology (Lee, et al., 141). Image interactivity technologies (IITs) allow for “the creation and manipulation of product or environment images to simulate actual experience with the product or environment” (Lee, et al., 141). Image enlargement, often overlooked because it is relatively straightforward and has been incorporated into so many e-shopping platforms, allows us to zoom right in on that garment we just cannot stop eyeballing. Although this handy technology in no way solves the “try-on” problem, it helps to ensure that we are perfectly at ease with our online purchases because we are able to gather more information about the garment’s texture and fabric. Having this knowledge can make or break whether or not we proceed to checkout with full shopping carts; this sweet, yet simple feature lessens the likelihood that we will be dissatisfied when our items arrives and can help us avoid having to deal with aggravating online returns. While this low level IIT is helpful, it can, at times, be frustrating to use because we are limited to zooming in on the product pictures that the fashion website provides (Lee, et al., 141).

A step up from image enlargement is another IIT called 3D product visualization, which allows us to look at an article of clothing from every angle and perspective imaginable. With 3D product visualization, we are not limited to the still images that the fashion retailer posts (and lets face it, likely edits), but are rather able to REALLY look at the clothing we are considering. This tool is not only proven to improve our attitude towards the brands that offer this feature, but is also known by companies to influence our purchase intentions towards saying yes to whatever we have set our sights on (Merle, et al., 43). Consider this your warning: if you utilize a 3D product visualization tool, you are more that much more likely to go through with your purchase! USER BEWARE!

Moving right along the digital, interactive technology spectrum. Next is mix-and-match image interactivity, which is also a type of IIT. As a big fan of the 1995 coming-of-age film Clueless, I was especially excited to learn about this digital technology. Much like the computer program Cher uses in the opening scenes of Clueless, mix-and-match IIT allows users to create and coordinate outfits right on their screen. We can consider complementary articles of clothing , such as a shirt, pants, and shoes, on the website we are browsing until we have created the ‘perfect’ outfit online (Merle, et al., 43). What more could we want! Again, CAUTION: Mix-and-match technology has been proven to positively influence our purchase intentions, revisit intentions, the amount of time we spend on the website, and our attitude towards the online shopping platform (Merle, et al., 43).

One of the largest fashion retailers to have adapted this technology so far is Nordstrom. According to this press release posted to Nordstrom’s website, the forward-thinking department store acquired a mix-and-match image interactivity program in order to “replicate the experience of working with a stylist in a store for those who shop online.” This mix-and-match technology, which is available on every product page, considers the product you are currently viewing and provides suggestions from Nordstrom’s trendsetting stylists to help you curate your outfit. The antidote to never knowing quite how to style your most coveted clothing items online, Nordstrom’s mix-and-match technology utilizes your search history, purchase records, and interactions with stylists to coordinate entire outfits for all of life’s different occasions. Next time you need some convincing that the shirt you can’t stop eyeing will, in fact, match with pants and shoes, visit Nordstrom’s customized “Your Looks” feature to help you seal the deal! Thank you Nordstrom for gifting us all, your online shoppers, with personal stylists.

The highest level IIT to date is Virtual Try-On (VTO), a program that allows us to “try-on” clothing without ever having to lift a finger! All you have to do is select the “model” that most closely resembles you, based on gender, race, body proportion and height, and, “voila!,” you can try on every article of clothing and outfit combination your heart desires (Merle, et al., 43). Some 3D try-on programs even allow us to manipulate the body shape, skin and hair color of our models, which leads to more personalization (Lee, et al., 145). Studies of VTO programs have concluded that VTO leads to higher confidence in apparel fit, but only when online customers perceive their models as “the real me” (Merle, et al., 46). VTO technology works best to dispel our pre-purchase concerns about fit when we feel that our model truly looks like us; the more closely we resemble our avatar, the more likely we are to feel pleasure and fantasy (the hedonic value) when shopping! We should keep this in mind as Virtual Try-On is incorporated into more and more online shopping platforms!

Various fashion retailers have incorporated image enlargement, 3D product visualization, mix-and-match interactivity, and Virtual Try-On into their e-shopping platforms to enhance our experiences. While I, personally, find these technological advances to be cutting-edge and would use them in a heartbeat, I would encourage companies to carefully consider their customer demographics before investing in IITs for online shopping. Studies suggest that the success of these new technologies is dependent on customer age and our willingness to experiment with appearance (Lee, et al., 140). That is to say that companies can incorporate IITs all they want; what ultimately matters is are WE, the masses of online shoppers, willing to experiment with these new technologies that our fashion retailers are offering? Are we bold shoppers who want to try out new styles and explore new looks? If you answered “yes” to these questions, what are you waiting for! Urge your favorite fashion brands to improve their online shopping experiences with IITs and continue to frequent online stores that offer these innovative technologies. If you answered “no” to these questions, maybe online shopping isn’t the right fit for you and you should stick to enjoying in-store experiences. Regardless of your purchasing preferences, I wish all of my readers, “happy shopping!”

Works Cited:

Blázquez, Marta. “Fashion Shopping in Multichannel Retail: The Role of Technology in Enhancing the Customer Experience.” International Journal of Electronic Commerce, vol. 18, no. 4, 2014, pp. 97–116., doi:10.2753/jec1086-4415180404.

Colombi, Chiara, et al. “Fashion Retailing ‘Tech-Gagement’: Engagement Fueled by New Technology.” Research Journal of Textile and Apparel, vol. 22, no. 4, 2018, pp. 390–406., doi:10.1108/rjta-03-2018-0019.

Lee, Hyun-Hwa, et al. “Affective and Cognitive Online Shopping Experience.” Clothing and Textiles Research Journal, vol. 28, no. 2, 2010, pp. 140–154., doi:10.1177/0887302×09341586.

Merle, Aurélie, et al. “Whether and How Virtual Try-On Influences Consumer Responses to an Apparel Web Site.” International Journal of Electronic Commerce, vol. 16, no. 3, 2012, pp. 41–64., doi:10.2753/jec1086-4415160302.

Final Website Reflection

I thoroughly enjoyed creating and personalizing my website! When I first set out to create my website I was overwhelmed by all of the options and possibilities that come with a platform as flexible as WordPress. I was initially attracted to the themes that were full of vibrant pictures and colors because they were aesthetically pleasing and reminded me of instagram and magazines. After careful consideration I realized that these themes were more geared towards photo blogs and portfolios, and decided that I should go with a theme that is more conducive to writing, which would be the focus of my WordPress experience. In using a more basic theme my website became something that was different than what I had imagined from the outset, but still fits my style preferences. I purposefully made my website minimalistic, but used color, specifically blue, to personalize it. Regardless of its simple style, I am proud of my work and pleased with my website’s final layout and aesthetic.

One of the things I wish I could have done with my website was create a personalized logo or header. I did play around with different graphic design websites, like Canva and Looka, to create a graphic that would add a more personalized touch, but did not like how it looked when I tested them out. I went back and forth about using one of my own images, such as a landscape photo of the beach or a sunset, instead as a header, but decided against it because I preferred a more minimalist design. One thing I was able to do in order to customize my website was add a site icon, which is visible in the browser tab or bookmark bar; this icon features my initials and was made on Canva. Though small, I think this adds a nice, personalized touch! I also created a menu that appears at the top of my website; I used this to organize my posts according to whether they were a news response or a part of my research topic; to do this I categorized each post. The menu also includes an “About Me” page as well as a contact page, in case any website visitors want to know a little bit more about me or get in touch.

I would definitely like to continue to use my WordPress website! I think being proficient in WordPress is a valuable skill and am excited to continue to explore the platform in the future. I don’t think I will continue to write blog posts, as I, unfortunately, don’t think many people are tuned into them right now, but am open to using this website as a means of further expressing myself in the future! I am excited to see how my website continues to develop.

Final Creative Project

Use this link to access my Powtoon commercial: https://www.powtoon.com/c/fbnnfkFDwfg/1/m

I was initially apprehensive when I learned about the creative component of our research assignment as I was unsure of how I was going to deliver a social commentary on and find greater meaning in a topic as seemingly frivolous as online shopping. While I do not feel that this creative process has in anyway allowed me to reach a higher understanding of online shopping, it did force me to recognize that, though unimportant in the grand scheme of things, online shopping is a significant part of life in the 21st century and reflects the ways in which we rely on digital avenues to supplement and unburden our lives. Technology is permeating all aspects of our lives!

I ultimately settled on conceptualizing an app, called AVTR, and creating a commercial that advertised its services. AVTR uses a high-tech algorithm that processes information regarding the customer’s fit profile to create a realistic avatar and illustrate what an article of clothing would look like on. I thought imagining such an app would be especially pertinent to my topic of online shopping as my research focused on how companies are integrating technologies and digital features into their online platforms to make online shopping more seamless for the user. Many of the technologies I have come across were invented to tackle the biggest issue in online shopping, namely that you can’t try the clothing on before finalizing your purchase. AVTR is meant to mirror the technologies that allow customers to ‘try on’ clothing online through the utilization of augmented reality and the creation of proportionate 3D avatars. Though such technologies are currently few and far between, I believe that AVTR represents the future of online shopping.

Because I am unskilled in video editing and filming, I decided to use Powtoon to create my commercial. I was familiar with Powtoon’s interface as I have used it to create animations for other classes, and enjoyed reacquainting myself with this video and animation software. For this project I wanted to be more adventurous and decided to utilize the website’s marketing feature, which offers specialized graphics and valuable stock footage. Powtoon has been utilized by some of the largest Fortune 500 companies, so using this platform also provided me with insight into the ways that successful companies are marketing and pitching their products.

While I enjoyed using Powtoon as it is relatively straightforward and easy to use I, at times, felt limited in what I could do creatively in terms of designing graphics and AVTR’s platform. In these situations, I switched over to Canva.com, which is how I created AVTR’s logo and the ‘interface’ of the app. Using both websites allowed me to experiment with graphic design and video editing, and I now feel confident in creating video content.

News Response #5

For my final news response I have selected an article that is more entertaining than anything else. A stark contrast to some of Evan Osnos‘ previous articles, his most recent post, titled “Cracking the Code: A toddler, an iPad, and a tweet,” recounts his 3 year old’s mischievous attempt to unlock the family iPad. Though Ollie has in the past secured the iPad in his grasp and attempted to crack the code, nothing quite compares to his most recent effort. Ollie guessed passcode combination after passcode combination until giving up. When Osnos located the iPad and looked at the home screen, he was met with this glaring message: “iPad is disabled, try again in 25,536,442.” Yes, Ollie disabled the family iPad for about 48 years.

Unsure of what to do, Osnos posted this lock screen message to twitter and asked his followers for guidance. Little did he know that his tweet would attract worldwide attention and be picked up by countless news outlets, such as CNN, Fox News, and USA Today. Osnos was not only contacted by a Canadian television network and the London-based Daily Mail Online for a comment, but also received messages from fellow twitter users located in Indonesia and Germany. Such attention raises a crucial question: why did this innocent story about a toddler’s mishap with the family iPad gain such a spotlight?

Osnos considers this question and suggests that perhaps people were relieved to be exposed to such a silly news story. He also considers the fact that people were drawn to a story that so clearly indicates our captivity to our devices. I agree with this conclusion; it is telling that Ollie wanted to use his iPad so badly that he went to such great lengths to unlock it. In addition, we also cannot miss the irony in the fact that the second Osnos noticed that his iPad was locked, he took to Twitter for guidance. Though the answer is still unclear, this simple story exposes our dependence on technology and encourages us to take a step back from our everyday life. This anecdote encourages us to reflect on this reliance and consider the ways in which technology is ingrained in our society.

Final Project: Rough Draft of Research Paper

If you’re a frequent online shopper, you’ll relate to this scenario: You’re this close (I’m talking THIS CLOSE) to buying that cheap, on-trend shirt, or that cute, but impractical pair of shoes, only to falter at the last minute, succumbing to your fear that it just won’t fit or look right, and quickly exiting out of the webpage. It’s ok– we’ve all been there. What’s important, however, is that our most beloved fashion brands and retailers KNOW that we’ve been there; and, they also know why we do this.

This phenomenon, called “shopping cart abandonment,” has been attributed to what is recognized in the fashion industry as “the major and undeniable disadvantage in online apparel shopping:” namely that we, the customers, cannot physically try on and interact with the clothing before making a purchase (Colombi, 392). After all, it’s hard to justify purchasing a piece of clothing that we haven’t seen or felt it, yet alone tried it on!

If you were to ask any fashion retail company to describe their ultimate goal in terms of online shopping they would say something like this: that each time we visit their websites, we confidently proceed to checkout with shopping carts ‘filled’ to the brim. So, how exactly do these fashion companies seal the deal with their customers, so to speak, while being up against the many shortcomings of shopping online?

Well, armed with the knowledge that clothing is a “high-involvement product category” that is closely linked to personal ego and feelings of fantasy and pleasure, fashion companies have rapidly incorporated interactive digital technologies, such as augmented reality and 3D virtual models, into their online shopping platforms (Blázquez, 98). Such advancements are designed to reduce the risk associated with shopping online and cultivate a pleasant shopping experience, urging online customers to take the ultimate plunge and hit ‘purchase’ (Blázquez, 97; Colombi, 391). Moving forward, I will consider the importance of the shopping experience in fashion retail and explore the innovative technologies and techniques companies are implementing to connect with their customers and create a dynamic, interactive online atmosphere.

To understand just how crucial the ‘experience’ is in fashion retail, I would first like to briefly examine what goes into cultivating the perfect in-store experience. Doing so will establish a useful benchmark for comparison and also allow us to determine if online technologies are effectively bridging the gap between in-store and online retail channels.

You may not have ever stopped to consider this, but every store you have walked into and perused has a carefully curated aesthetic that sends you design, ambient, and social cues. Design cues are the exquisitely outfitted mannequins arranged into inviting window displays, or the alluring, envy-inducing ad campaigns that are plastered on the store’s walls. Social cues are the friendly employees who cheerfully ask “Can I help you with anything?,” and the other customers who wander the store and flick through the racks. Ambient cues are the catchy songs that ring overheard, the bright lights that draw you towards the clothing, and the seamless layout of the store. Together these cues comprise the atmospherics, or “conscious designing of a space,” which influence the behavior of you, the buyer. (Blázquez, 98).

Final Project: Creative Project Rough Draft

For my creative project, I have decided to produce a commercial that advertises an ‘app’ I have imagined, called “AVTR.” AVTR intends to make shopping online for clothing easier and more enjoyable by allowing users to ‘try on’ clothing with an avatar. To create this commercial, I have started to play with the features available on powtoon.com, a website that allows its users to create online animations and explainer videos, and canva.com, a graphics design website.

I started my process on powtoons.com because I am more familiar with this platform. I opted to utilize one of powtoon’s pre-made marketing video templates and selected from the available footage a video of a woman approaching a storefront window. The template allows me to customize the text and music featured in the advertisement. So far, I have added the question “Overwhelmed by an in-store shopping experience?,” to capture the viewers attention and encourage them to look online for shopping solutions.

I plan to add more scenes to this advertisement that will feature and explain the interface of my ‘app’ and demonstrate the ways in which AVTR can alleviate the stress of shopping for clothing online. Therefore, in addition to using this footage provided by powntoon.com, I would like to use canva.com to create graphics that showcase AVTR. I plan to create a mockup of AVTR to demonstrate its utility and efficacy. I have started playing around with graphics and slogans, but am not yet satisfied with what I created. Below is my initial effort at a graphic.

Extra Credit #1

On Tuesday (4/2/19), I attended the screening of 120 Battements Par Minute/BPM as part of Emory University’s annual “Tournes Film Festival,” which is dedicated to exclusively screening French films. 120 Battements Par Minute/BPM, titled “120 BPM” in English, focused on the French AIDs epidemic of the 1990s and followed the members of the activist organization, “ACT UP,” as they advocated for the rights and support of the HIV/AIDS community. The film alternated between intimate scenes that documented the relationships of those involved with ACT UP and riotous scenes that portrayed the protest techniques ACT UP members utilized to make their voices and concerns heard. In doing so, 120 BPM provided insight into the private lives of those who were HIV positive, had had an AIDs scare, or were a part of the French gay community, and also demonstrated the power of political organization.

I was struck by this film as it brought my attention to the worldwide impact of the HIV/AIDs epidemic and encouraged me to learn about the challenges and struggles that are common throughout the gay community. While 120 Battements Par Minute/BPM was graphic and included provocative content, I am happy that I watched this film as I am now more informed on the dangers of HIV/AIDS and the ways this disease has serious, life-threatening consequences. While I did not find any direct connection to the material covered in our Digital Media and Culture class, I was impressed by the film’s cinematography and unabashed message, and would, therefore, highly recommend watching it.