With its e-commerce platform ZOZOTOWN supporting over 8,500 brands and 11 million customers in Japan*, ZOZO, Inc. is a well-known Internet apparel pioneer in the country. A SoftBank Corp. (TOKYO: 9434) group company since 2019, ZOZO also made headlines with the “ZOZOSUIT,” a device that uses advanced technologies for body measurement, and other innovations.
As of the end of December 2022
Being synonymous with e-commerce and state-of-the-art fashion technology, ZOZO surprised consumers on December 16, 2022, when it opened its first physical store in Tokyo’s Omotesando—a top shopping destination lined with flagship stores. Dubbed “niaulab by ZOZO,” the store began taking appointments on December 16 to provide personalized-styling services that combine AI technology with the expertise of professional stylists.
Since customer visits commenced on February 1, 2023, niaulab has been helping customers explore and discover styles that truly suit them best (*Editor’s note: “niau” is a Japanese word for “looks good,” “suit” and “match”).
What’s it like inside ZOZO’s first brick-and-mortar facility, and why did ZOZO decide to open it? SoftBank News visited niaulab to find out.
Exclusive experience starts with fashion counselling
To make an appointment at niaulab, customers need to apply via their LINE account, and if selected, fill out a short form about their fashion preferences and concerns. Getting selected for an appointment is not an easy task, however. Makoto Okubo, General Manager of ZOZO’s CDO Office—the person responsible for niaulab—explained, “In December we advertised slots for 100 people, and received 27,503 applications in response.” He added that 90% of the applicants were female and 70% were in their teens and twenties.
If chosen, customers can look forward to an exclusive experience that takes roughly two hours to complete, completely free of charge. Stepping into the fitting room, customers start the process with some fashion counselling. Based on results from the short form they filled out, customers will be presented with three images of outfits from the outfit-sharing app “WEAR,” selected by a technology called “niaulab AI by ZOZO.”
Using these three outfits from niaulab AI as a reference point, a professional stylist then proposes three different personalized stylings by asking the customer about their current taste in clothes and new styles they may wish to try.
Customers smile when they find their style
Customers then choose their favorite option of the three offered by the professional stylist. But the session doesn’t stop just at clothing—customers have their hair made up and makeup applied by a professional, and they can enjoy a photoshoot with a pro photographer. If customers feel shy about having their photos taken, they don’t need to worry—staff will suggest poses to put them at ease and feel like models.
As a special memento, at the end of the session customers receive handwritten cards with styling tips, pictures from the photo session and a small bag of souvenirs.
So why did an e-commerce fashion leader like ZOZO decide to open niaulab in the first place?
According to Makoto Okubo, the aim is to apply the knowledge and insights gained from niaulab to ZOZOTOWN and ZOZO’s other existing businesses, with the hope is that this will improve service convenience. For example, making individualized recommendations to customers on what clothes may suit them best is one possible outcome. “For the future growth of the business, it’s important for us to understand what makes up fashion ‘suitability’” he said.
While ZOZO has developed virtual online fashion services like ZOZOSUIT, ZOZOMAT and ZOZOGLASS to help customers measure specific body shapes and parts, Okubo stressed the importance of niaulab’s “real world” dimension.
“Services like ZOZOSUIT help with size, which is one element that’s crucial to suitability, but a multiple-element perspective is needed to truly find the right style for someone,” Okubo said. “At niaulab, we directly listen to customers' fashion-related concerns and preferences, which are abstract and therefore more difficult to convert into data.”
Okubo added, “We’ll also be collecting data on details that are rarely verbalized, such as why professional stylists and hair and makeup artists chose the items they did, which is only possible in an offline setting.”
What’s next for niaulab? Okubo explained that, to begin with, ZOZO plans to analyze the results of what suits its roughly 1,000 annual visitors so it can apply this data to its businesses and thus provide an even better experience to its customers.
(Posted on March 16, 2023)
by SoftBank News Editors