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Hang out at any fashion conference – as I do – and you’ll realise: the future of shopping is mobile. Smartphones are becoming the portal of choice for fashionistas to find, share and buy their favourite items on thego.

Investment bank Goldman Sachs estimates that by 2018, global mobile commerce sales will hit $626bn, up from $133bn in 2013. By the end of this year 1.76bn people will own a smartphone – that’s almost a quarter of theworld population, and by 2017 it will rise to a third, according to research company eMarketer. And then there’s the prospect of shopping on the Apple Watch, with its seductively tempting Apple Pay system.

Luxury consumers aren’t put off purchasing a handbag or even a yacht or car on their smartphone, either.According to the Luxury Institute, a New York-based consultancy, 67 per cent of affluent consumers now shop via mobile.

So it’s hardly surprising that there has been a whole new slew of shopping apps, from offshoots of existing brands to new start-ups pitching themselves as “shoppable Instagram”, or as the “Foursquare of retail”, for example.

Many – tapping into our taste for social networks – feature wishlist sharing and other social media traits with the aim of building “shopping communities” and the expectation that personal recommendations will drive sales.With features suchas location-sensitive functionality and visual/audio search, apps increasingly appear to be intuitively hyper-personalised. They take advantage of smartphone technology to aid shopping, searching for products similar to those photographed with the phones ’ built-in cameras, and location sensors to alert users when their desired brand, store or product is nearby (PayPal Beacon even lets you pay wirelessly through your phone, rather than queue).

Last year, Apple launched iBeacon, Bluetooth technology that allows consumers to receive updates and directions on their phone to their favourite items when they are out shopping.Amazon, which recently expanded into premium beauty and fashion, now boasts Amazon Fire, its first smartphone with image and sound recognition (available in the US now and in the UK and Germany from September 30).

Here’s my pick of the latest app treats for fashion and beauty shoppers:

Lyst

Lyst, an online fashion marketplace launched last year, describes itself as the Twitter of shopping. Users can personalise a live feed of items, purchase suggestions from famous people, editors or influencers and create their own wishlists. These “Lysts” can then be followed by others on the network, and users are updated when their favourite items are on sale. The US app also has a universal shopping cart function, which means US users can shop at multiple retailers and pay in one single transaction.

Verdict: Like an endless shoppable Tumblr: crack for shopping addicts.

ASAP54

ASAP54 taps into the Instagram show-off impulse but connects everything to shopping. The app is a social network in which users create shoppable mood boards and can follow others, be they friends or celebrities such as Kim Kardashian or Cara Delevingne (both registered ASAP54-ers).

Users upload an image, a holiday snap or a landscape, and the app uses the visual search function to find merchandise in similar hues and styles. Searches can be refined by adding specific brands, items and colours. Everything is shareable, shoppable and likeable.

Verdict: Everything that’s great about Pinterest and Instagram, with a retail angle. The visual search works well too.

Snap Fashion/Snap ColourPop

Among the first of the visual search brigade, Snap Fashion and its sister app Snap ColourPop have been dubbed the Shazam of shopping (Shazam being the app that allows users to identify any pop song using audio recognition). Launched by British computer-science graduate Jenny Griffiths, Snap Fashion allows shoppers to take a snap of any item anywhere, be it a shoe, skirt or necklace, and, again using visual search technology, find similar items available to buy online. From there, users can either make their purchases or create a wishlist to share with friends and followers. Snap ColourPop, the sister app, is similar but invites users to photograph colours on the street and shop for coordinating items.

Verdict: The visual search on Snap Fashion didn’t come up with items that were all that closely related to those I had snapped – but maybe that’s a reflection of my photography skills. Snap ColourPop was better. My only question is: why aren’t the two functions in one app?

Kwoller

Kwoller is one of a new strain of shopping apps aping Tinder, the location-sensitive dating app that invites users to peruse a string of nearby suitors. Given that Tinder now has 10m active users, it’s little wonder start-ups such as Kwoller are taking a similar approach. Like its dating forerunner, Kwoller turns shopping into a game. Users swipe left and right on items they like, which are then assigned to a shoppable “Lovelist”. Users are updated if the items go on sale.

Verdict: The selection feels a bit random and oddball – much like searching for prospective dating companions.

L’Oréal Color Genius/Makeup Genius

L’Oréal has recently launched Makeup Genius, which enables users to “try on” cosmetics by turning their iPhone or iPad into a mirror in which they can digitally apply lipstick, eyeshadow and blusher. The app allows for different light situations and skin tones. Users can see how they look wearing the product and be guided to items.

Color Genius is essentially a personalised colour guide. The app uses photo recognition and colour search to help users find the perfect shade within the L’Oréal portfolio.

Verdict: Makeup Genius has already been lauded by beauty editors and bloggers for its innovative visual recognition. The only hitch is that you can’t use these apps to shop online – yet.

Ask Bobbi

Bobbi Brown’s new app aims to increase her reputation as a make-up expert. Ask Bobbi a make-up question: “How to apply foundation”, or “How do I create the perfect smoky eye”, and the app offers step-by-step instructions and product selection. Users can search for live make-up tutorials at local stores (with Bobbi Brown representatives, not Bobbi herself). There’s a virtual digital mirror function, a wishlist function, and the how-tos are shareable on social media.

Verdict: The how-tos are generally visual and easy to follow. There’s a nice connection between inspiration and education, and the local touch – connecting you to nearby Bobbi Brown counters – also gives it a personalised feel.

Hermès Tie Break

One for the boys: Hermès has launched an app dedicated to men’s accessories. It features step-by-step guides to tying knots, along with games, animations and short films about Hermès tie patterns. It’s primarily an engagement tool, designed to boost the appeal of Hermès ties – as the brand’s J’aime mon carré 2010 online campaign did for Hermès silk scarves (this month it is also launching La Maison des Carrés, a new website dedicated to women’s silk accessories). Users can also search and shop for designs.

Verdict: Bang on for the moment. Men’s accessories are taking off in a big way – the bolder the better. Tie Break will show them the Hermès way.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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