As the world shut down, many of us turned to online shopping in hopes of not only finding the perfect pair of tracksuits but also to fill the gigantic void left by both a lack of social interactions and dreadful boredom. Coming out of the UK’s latest lockdown with four new tracksuits that I didn’t need in the first place, along with more unnecessary crap, I can assure you that although it didn’t make everything better, it did help slightly.
That being said, my pandemic-induced compulsive online shopping taught me more than how important it is to not give in to the sirens of Klarna—it introduced me to a whole new wave of fashion apps using AI to personalise how people shop online.
One of those companies is THE YES, “shopping made genius” as its website reads. Launched by Julie Bornstein in March 2020, the AI shopping app pulls items of clothing from brands and retailers’ websites and shows them in a perfectly curated feed. Think of it as a fashion version of Tinder: if users like the dress being shown, they tap ‘yes’. If they’re not interested, they tap ‘no’. The only main difference here is that, unlike Tinder, it can improve the items it shows over time by using artificial intelligence and machine learning.
All likes and dislikes are then fed back to the underlying machine learning models to inform each personalised feed of items users can then buy, and of course, no two people’s recommendations are the same. “AI is simply the ability to understand consumer behaviour and act on it,” said Bornstein, the former chief operating officer of clothing subscription service Stitch Fix when speaking to Wired. “The problem with e-commerce is that the infrastructure doesn’t exist to do that today. You need to rebuild the tech stack.”
In order to give its customers the most accurate recommendations possible, THE YES starts learning from them as soon as they download the app. Each time someone installs the app, they’re prompted with a series of questions about what they like and dislike. Their recommendations are then refined as they ‘yes’ or ‘no’ the products they’re shown. “We factor in hundreds of data points,” Bornstein explained. These include preferred brands, price range, size and item silhouettes.
And so far, so good for THE YES—since its launch, there have been more than seven million ‘yes’ and ‘no’ entries, and Bornstein shared with Wired that the firm is already on the tenth version of its algorithm. “Really, what we’re doing is ranking the web according to each user.” Google, who?
Aside from THE YES, which is currently only available in the US but is planning to expand to the UK soon, a wave of firms are deploying AI in a bid to transform the fashion industry. Research published by Google’s Cloud business in November 2020 revealed that retailers were looking to use AI within ten different areas of their business, from demand prediction to customer loyalty schemes and product personalisation.
Furthermore, Meticulous Research predicts AI in retail to be worth $19 billion by 2027 and companies have made the best of the pandemic to speed up their adoption. Meanwhile, the startup FINESSE is using AI to search the web and predict what the next trend may be, then using algorithmic design to quickly produce small runs of clothing within 25 days. The firm also uses 3D modelling software for all of its gender-neutral clothing to reduce costs and cut down on the amount of waste that’s created during the process of creating samples.
Speaking to Hypebae, FINESSE queer and non-binary CEO Ramin Ahmari explained their vision, “Most of fashion today has been told from a specifically white male gaze. True equality and diversity has to start from the very root of an organisation […] Mainstream fashion has absolutely no idea about what will sell, so they play it safe and produce everything under the sun. Our focus at FINESSE is to eliminate this outrageous inefficiency.”
In a world where consumerism and artificial intelligence are demonised while still making the world go ‘round, it certainly looks like the fashion industry has found ways to get the best of both worlds. The real question is, are consumers fully ready to give away their power of decision making? If that means swapping out four okay-ish buys for a single flawless one, I’m in.