Let’s face it—change is always scary. We all have thought about how retail automation and Artificial Intelligence will impact our lives and those of millions of professionals around the world.
Certainly, automation and new technologies aiming at performing human-like tasks will have its effects on how organizations operate their business. Change is not a new thing for retail business, but it is certainly the new normal, and it comes with a lot of benefits for multiple areas, including the fashion industry.
AI and automation are here to stay—47% of digitally mature organizations now claim to have a solidly defined AI strategy in place. This is why, in this blog post, we’ve gathered 6 solutions that are being developed or improved and that are set to automate and make operations easier for many fashion businesses, with a special emphasis on those having online sales channels.
1. Automated Sewing Machines
Sewing robots are already a reality. Although they are in the early stages, they are expected to bring benefits like higher reliability and fewer variants in the manufactured garments. This solution is also set to disrupt the market in terms of demand and time to market, as it will help manufacture products according to the demand.
However, we might need to wait around a bit to see these technologies mature. The variability of fabrics and stretch of the materials makes it challenging for machines to understand how to sew every single piece. Moreover, they are still not ready to sew very complex garments. Luckily, some companies like SoftWear or Grabit, an automated shoe producer, have been progressing, and we’re sure we will see some improvements in the coming years.
2. Automatic Product Content Generation
Managing Product Information has always been challenging for online retailers, who sell through different channels and need to populate their catalogs with relevant keywords in order for products to be easily findable.
The importance of product information is well-known. It enhances the product experience, facilitates filtering, and is essential to convince customers to proceed to purchase.
In the last few years, several tools using automation have managed to generate automatically product information. Either by using Natural Language Processing (NLP) to create descriptions from already existing data methods or Computer Vision to analyze product images and generate attributes and keywords from scratch. These tools, powered by companies like Catchoom have already been implemented by large retail companies like flash-sales southern Europe leader, Privalia (Vee-Pee).
3. Automated Logistics
With the emergence of eCommerce, retailers have seen online orders increase rapidly. And this comes with an added challenge—selling through multiple online and physical sales channels makes it more difficult to manage the logistics processes in a way that satisfies customer needs in the shortest possible time. From automated warehousing and storage to material flow solutions, automated order picking or driverless vehicles, logistics is one of the main areas where automation has already taken over. Many of you might have heard about Amazon warehouse robots, but the truth is these technologies are increasingly being adopted by all kinds of retailers.
Many tasks, including the removal of cardboard separators or empty pallets, as well as the commission of boxes or storage of items, are already being automated. The intralogistics company PSB, for instance, offers hanger shuttles that help companies like New Look automate their warehouses. At some point, it is even expected that companies will be delivering goods in an automated way!
4. Fashion Imagery Generators
Another future AI tool is fashion imagery generators. This automation tool that uses a new type of Artificial Intelligence called GAN (Generative Adversarial Network) will allow creating models wearing different garments for fashion websites and advertisements.
These realistic virtual models could reduce time to market by minimizing photoshoot sessions. In fact, a paper published by the German fashion company Zalando, which invests heavily in technology, uses AI to generate high-resolution images of digital fashion models that could wear any of their clothing. Efforts are also being put not only in generating models but also in creating a way to transfer outfits from one model to another.
5. AI-Powered Demand Forecasting
One of the main challenges for retailers is knowing exactly the amount of items and units of each item are needed on each store, and even online. With fast fashion growing at giant steps, there is a need for demand prediction that would give insights on which garments and accessories need to be manufactured and when. AI-powered predictive analytics do exactly so, making it possible to forecast the demand and fine-tune the production accordingly.
Companies like Symphony RetailAI, NextAtlas or GFAIVE are already offering this kind of solution that simplifies demand prediction by automating the analysis using Artificial Intelligence to make the most out of their products and remain competitive.
6. Automated Online Merchandising
Another AI tool already in use is automated online merchandising. There are different solutions that automate different merchandising strategies. One of them is automating the analysis of customer trends to recommend, for instance, either the “hottest” products or products that are performing slightly worse in order to boost its sales. Other merchandising strategies including automation in fashion retail focus on analyzing customer profiles, for instance, products already seen or already bought, to tailor recommendations. And there are even solutions like Catchoom‘s that use Computer Vision to analyze the catalog garments and suggest visually similar items when a customer is visiting a product page.
Automation in Fashion Retail—A Wide Research Ground for Innovators
As we’ve seen, there are multiple areas of the value chain in fashion retail that are already being automated or will be in the near future. Companies willing to step up their game and remain competitive will certainly need to invest in implementing solutions to speed up operations and satisfy the ever-demanding expectations of today and future customers around the globe.