Design in Cheek
the user experience of fashion

A Socially Distant Shopping Experience – UX Design Challenge

COVID-19 is having hardcore effects on fashion retailers.

As self-isolation is the latest trend, fashion retailers are hurting from plummeted sales. People are no longer able to go to their favorite brick-and-mortar stores and enjoy a shopping spree. And buying clothes has lost its touch without anywhere to wear them.

Both large and small brands are really taking a hit – J Crew is one of the brands that is having to file for bankruptacy after an uphill battle against debt that was heighten with COVID-19. No one buying items also means a lot of unsold inventory. Quartz reports that companies are having to cancel or suspend orders, meaning unsold inventory will have to go for highly discounted prices.

I wanted to think about the longterm affects this pandemic may have on our shopping habits by questioning how shopping will look if self-isolation was to be extended even longer. This challenge was meant to be a quick exercise to explore the real world application retail experiences in a digital landscape.


With COVID-19 impacting the fashion industry, create an idea for a socially distant shopping experience.


  •  Identify where emerging technologies can be used to help provide a better shopping experience
  • Design a shopping experience that maintains social distancing
  • Combine the qualities of buying retail from brick-and-mortar stores into online experiences

Project overview

  1. Brick-and-Mortar shopping research
  2. Online Shopping research
  3. Sketches and Ideation
  4. Final Design
  5. Real World Application


What makes brick-and-mortar shopping unique?

In order to understand why there is a decline in online shopping, I looked at what makes brick-and-mortar shopping so unique to see what factors I could integrate into a digital space.


I personally love the physical aspects of shopping is that it is immersive. It activates all of my senses and keeps my mind stimulated while I look for something to purchase. What I found really interesting is that shopping is becoming more synonymous with experiencing.

A major quality that all of these new retail experiences leveraged was being both shareable and social. If people weren’t able to experience the store together, people would most likely not go alone. Also, if something is made to be Instagramable, then what’s the point if you couldn’t post it?

“It’s about providing an immersive, sensory engagement: cool, friendly, smart staff; good music; nice smells; compelling merchandising; significant art; a spot for coffee, drinks, café and, of course, a strong presentation of great design.”

Kristen Cole, president and chief creative officer of Forty Five Ten and sister-store Tenoversix

If simply buying a new item was the goal, people are more likely to stay at home and shop online. People often don’t get out of the house to just buy something if they don’t have to – they want to do something interesting with their time.

Although these experiences are all great, the big challenge is how to create an immersive experience like the ones hosted by Glossier and The House of Vans in the digital world. Looking at physical locations isn’t enough, so it’s time to look at what is already happening online.

What makes online shopping unique?

Online retail is becoming very creative, and the integration of technologies is becoming more popular to provide better experiences. I looked at two big ways technology is transforming how we shop for clothing in the digital landscape.

Try-On Before You Buy

Trying on before you buy is a great way to see if what you really want is worth the purchase. This concept stems from trying things on in the dressing room, or having a trial period for a subscription. We are empowered with choice to know what works and what doesn’t.

GAP Dressing Room allows people to put in their measurements so a digital garment is built with those specifications.

Nike Fit measures people’s feet and can give a perfect shoe recommendation.

Trying on before you buy reduces shopping anxiety and builds trust. When we know what we are investing in is worthwhile, we are able to feel more confident putting our money towards it. It turns the traditional guessing game of online shopping into an enjoyable experience where we can smartly buy without the hassle.

Contextual Shopping

For a couple years now, Instagram has their own storefront. Anyone can post an item for sale with details such as price easily accessible. What makes Instagram so special is that you can find new items daily and also see them being worn in context.

Unlike a traditional storefront where models wear exclusively the brand they’re modeling, Instagramers are able to see the more realistic side of clothing – outfits created with a mixmosh of brands.

Overall Research Takeaways

  • Trying on clothes in a physical space doesn’t matter; it’s about the atmosphere and what else the space offers
  • Little commitment comes with try on before you buy
  • Integrating AR in an immersive environment can be very promising and emotion/thought provoking
  • “Retailment” is the future
  • Socialization through images (social media) or by seeing/meeting new people can build connections and interest
  • It’s not just about what it looks like, it’s about accuracy to trust
    • Reducing shopping anxiety
    • Building trust

Shopping is more than just shopping. It’s about being able to share an experience, shop with confidence, and know how it will look in real life. This helped me rethink the main challenge into the Real Challenge:

Create a socially-distant online shopping experience that integrates immersive socialization features with trustworthy shopping.


Reiterative Sketching

My ideas were produced in a very reiterative manner, taking the first idea and building upon it.

Started out with the idea you can easily scroll through outfits that would be tailored to show how they would fit on you.

Took the idea of being able to put items on in a more drag and drop manner. You can put on items on your Instagram pictures.

Users can have a group shopping moment by being able to share items, drag and drop them to the other person. And immediately purchase. They’d be presented in AR so it would look like how it would fit.

The last idea really drew me in. I was inspired by a popular form of social interaction: web calls. Using whatever group call platform of choice, we are often able to see the other person. But if we take that idea of being able to see the other, what if we were able to dress each other? What if the normal factor of being able to pick out clothes for each other, interact, and see items on each other was the same?


A Socially Distant Retail Experience

Users have a group shopping experience by being able to share, wear, and discover new products through immersive AR/VR technology.

The experience details are highlighted below, following the experience of User A (left) and User B (right).


  1. Users put in measurements and have suggested items based on a style quiz
  2. Users hop onto a video call with each other and are able to see suggested items.

User A puts on a shirt that is recommended by the application.

3. Through AR/VR technology, users are able to ‘put on’ items virtually by having items created digitally on their bodies.

4. Users can also share items by holding down an item they want to give to their friend to try on.

User A shares the shirt they are wearing with their friend, User B, so they can see what it looks like on.

5. More items can be selected to to try on by exploring what else is on the market.

User A wants to look for more items, so they pull up the full marketplace to discover new items to add to their main screen for easy accessibility.

6. Both users are able to buy whatever they see during this shopping experience.

User A added a lot of handbags to their main screen. Both User A and User B enjoy being able to try on all sorts of items. And in the end, they are able to make educated purchasing decisions of what they felt good in.

They were able to have a quality shopping experience together, even if miles apart.

What we can take away from this project

This design challenge was meant to be quick to focus on the potential integration of physical retail experiences in a technological landscape. Although the final design requires a lot of AR and VR technology, we can take the findings from this project to understand the potential future of shopping after COVID-19.

This pandemic has pushed retail buying to a breaking point, where what we wear doesn’t exactly matter unless we are going outside… which we aren’t right now. We need to understand that the future of shopping requires those essential qualities of the shopping experience – shareable, fun, exploratory – to survive, no matter the platform.

This digital experience allows people to maintain the social and exploratory aspects of shopping while being socially distant. This design can further be pushed to have us question whether or not we need physical clothing to maintain this type of experience, and what that can mean for the future of the retail industry. From this challenge, we can understand further how much it’s not just the purchases themselves that matter. We care about the experiences that are attached to them.

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