If every stereotypical boy wanted Marty McFly’s hoverboard back in the day, every stereotypical girl wanted Cher Horowitz’s wardrobe (I wanted a lightsabre, but don’t we all).
And while the tech world froths over every levitating trainer or exoskeleton once every few weeks, it seems like it’s Cher’s fiendishly handy wardrobe-matching service that’s going to make its way into the average consumer’s home first.
Amazon recently unveiled a new addition to its successful line of smart home gadgets: Echo Look.
An innocuous-looking little device that most closely resembles a webcam, the Echo Look is being pitched at women (and men) who find it hard to know what to wear in the morning.
Creating the perfect look
The device works by scanning its user and offering up a photo (delivered to a user’s smartphone) of how they look in that new dress. The system scans and learns your complete wardrobe as you model it and, over time, can start to offer matching suggestions.
A tiny robot that can style me? Good luck, little algorithm; my closest friends have no idea what to buy for me and ASOS has more data on me than my mother yet its recommendations are still terrible.
But I know you’ll keep trying and, eventually, you’ll learn. And then you’ll make a killing from me.
Because that’s where the money is here, really, isn’t it? Amazon’s huge online fashion empire is expansive enough – and its awareness of your tastes and interests is growing all the time – that with its latest gadget it’s got a direct line into the potential sales environment that is your bedroom.
And now it knows exactly what its customers look like, what they like to wear and even their likely out-loud vented frustrations about each new item that translates into hugely insightful consumer data. Which, in turn, could be the next phase in advertising evolution.
Has technology finally found the perfect relationship with consumer fashion, after so many false starts?
Can tech conquer the fashion world?
The worlds of fashion and technology are highly logical bedfellows – innovative, cyclical, trend-led and simultaneously disposable yet indispensable – yet a huge gulf exists between them that’s not just to do with the gendered stereotypes mentioned above.
So why is this?
Fashion has always had a bizarre relationship with practicality – both in terms of feasible looks and feasible prices – which has meant previous attempts to integrate tech and fashion remains niche, outrageously expensive or both.
You’d look ‘cool’ on an actual hoverboard – primarily just an accessory in the way a handbag is – but no mere mortal could afford one of the prototypes that get covered on Wired.
Everyone flipped out over Google Glass but even Diane von Furstenberg putting them on the catwalk couldn’t make them cool.
Smartwatches and fitness wearables are making huge strides in the arena of appealing to a trend-conscious audience, and Apple’s much-hyped work with Swiss watch experts to develop theirs made more still.
But Amazon’s innovation is – I think – the right way to integrate fashion and technology; it’s not about products – it’s about delivery.
Delivery, not products
I wrote back in 2015 about the appointment of a former fashion editor in a brand partnership role at Instagram and what this would mean for the merging of the infamously unstylish Mark Zuckerberg’s world with that of the FROW (front row at a fashion show, for those wondering).
High-end bands have now moved beyond using technological innovations as ways to make their products – Mary Katrantzou pioneering digital printing, Claire Danes’ incredible LED-filled dress at last year’s Met Gala – and the next battleground is to translate this relationship to the traditional high street and tug at the wallets of the average consumer.
Why I think Amazon will succeed where other tech giants have so far not is that it has found a way to do this that doesn’t require a huge behavioural change.
The fashion-conscious women (and men) of the world already do all the things that would be required for Amazon’s new product to integrate seamlessly into their lives. They already take outfit photos and share them with friends for their thoughts. They already analyse their existing wardrobes for gaps and go in search of items to fill the slots.
But now Amazon’s looking at the gaps too, and learning, and about to crack the targeted advertising industry wide open.
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