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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

One snag in shopping for clothes online is that there's no way to try before you buy. Virtual dressing rooms — if the tech gets good enough — could solve that problem.

Why it matters: E-commerce is taking more and more of brick-and-mortar's share of retail, growing up to five times faster during the pandemic than it was before, per McKinsey. The rise of virtual dressing rooms could propel that growth even further.

  • The top reason why people shop for clothes in person is to try them on, per an NPD Group report from 2019 (cited by Morning Brew in a must-read deep dive into the tech behind virtual dressing rooms).
  • Return rates have skyrocketed during the pandemic as people have been buying more online. Some 42% of U.S. consumers surveyed returned items between March 2020 and March 2021, per Coresight Research. And all those returns are costly for retailers to process.

But since 2010, apparel retailers — including Warby Parker, Walmart, Nike Amazon and Asos — have been experimenting with tech that lets people test stuff out at home, Morning Brew reports.

The options range from something as simple as a front-facing camera filter, which lets you see how a pair of sunglasses might look on your face, to Drapr, a startup acquired by Gap that lets you create a 3D avatar and see how you'd move in the new threads.

And the innovations in fitting rooms aren't just happening in the virtual world.

  • More and more brick-and-mortar stores are sprucing up their dressing rooms — and leaving behind those drab closets with fluorescent lighting — to make the experience better for shoppers.
  • As a result, people return a greater share of items they buy online than in person.
  • Take Reformation, a women's clothing store, which has tech-infused fitting rooms with different light settings so that you can see how an outfit will transition from day to night. There are also screens inside the rooms that let you summon clothes to try on, or buy something you're loving, without ever having to speak to a salesperson.

What to watch: 50% of millennials and 45% of Gen Zers polled said they mostly shop online, per a Morning Brew–Harris Poll survey.

  • But just 19% of millennials and 11% of Gen Zers surveyed had tried virtual dressing room tech.
  • We'll see how quickly consumers become comfortable with it.

Go deeper

First time in 5 years: More stores open than close

A Dick s Sporting Goods concept store at West Town Mall in Knoxville, Tenn. Photo: Brianna Paciorka/Knoxville News Sentinel via Reuters

Retailers will open more stores this year than they close — for the first time since 2017, The Wall Street Journal reports from an analysis of 900+ chains by research company IHL Group.

Why it matters: "Stores have become integral in fulfilling e-commerce orders. They serve as distribution hubs and convenient places for shoppers to pick up and return online purchases," The Journal writes.

COVID cases and deaths are on the rise

Expand chart
Data: N.Y. Times; Cartogram: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

COVID-19 cases and deaths are rising all across the U.S. even before the Omicron variant takes hold.

Why it matters: The holidays — and the inevitable spread of Omicron — will only heighten the risks that unvaccinated Americans face from COVID, in all its forms.

Updated 1 hour ago - Health

New Zealand aims to create smoke-free generation with tobacco ban

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at a December news conference in Auckland, New Zealand. Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images

New Zealand officials announced Thursday legislative plans to outlaw smoking by making it illegal to sell or supply tobacco products to the next generation as part of a lifetime ban.

Why it matters: "People aged 14 when the law comes into effect will never be able to legally purchase tobacco," Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall said in a statement announcing the proposed law, part of the Smokefree 2025 Action Plan.

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