Augmented reality is perhaps one of the coolest technologies to emerge in the past several years. It’s not difficult to understand why — just look at these cool augmented reality videos.

But can augmented reality really create business value for fashion retailers?

Last week, ReadWriteWeb detailed how UK online fashion retailer Banana Flame is now using augmented reality provided by a company called Zugara to give its customers the ability to preview what clothing will look like on them using a webcam:

Using the computer’s webcam, visitors to Banana Flame’s website can instantly try on any of the clothing items it sells. To start the process, you have to step a few feet back from the computer, making sure the camera can see your face. The garment will then automatically position itself on top of what you’re currently wearing. Using Kinect-like motions, you can then touch virtual buttons to make minor adjustments to the garment’s position on your body.

There’s no doubt that technologies like Zugara’s are interesting, and that we’ll continue to see the development of technologies that attempt to make online shopping more like offline shopping.

But are these technologies good investments for retailers? That’s debatable.

Fashion, of course, is probably the most difficult market when it comes to replicating the offline experience. Allowing consumers to visualize what an outfit will look like on them sounds like a big step forward, but trying on an outfit in real life is about way more than appearance. How does the material feel? Is the garment of high quality? How does it actually fit on your body? Technology based on augmented reality can never answer these questions, and Zugara’s VP of Product & Marketing, Jack Benoff, admits as much.

Which begs the question: is augmented reality something fashion retailers should even consider investing in today?

The answer may be ‘no.‘ There are plenty of potential investments that many fashion retailers haven’t yet made that aren’t as sexy as augmented reality, but which may provide far more immediate benefit. Some examples:

  • Detailed product descriptions.
  • High-quality product images.
  • Zoom functionality.
  • Visual previews for all product variations (eg. color, styles, etc.).
  • Product guides (lookbooks, fit information, etc.).
  • Free shipping.
  • A liberal returns policy.
  • Telephone sales and customer support.

At the end of the day, all investments should drive recognizable improvements in the
customer experience. If they don’t do that, it’s less likely they can be
justified. Until the business case for augmented reality is more compelling, fashion retailers should keep this in mind when considering investments in these technologies.