Recently, it was announced that Japan’s biggest e-commerce company Rakuten – often touted as the Asian nation’s answer to Amazon – has bought a start-up based in London that creates ‘virtual’ fitting rooms.
Fits.me’s technology helps online shoppers visualise how an item of clothing might look on them by taking into account their personal body measurements. It counts Hugo Boss, Adidas and Nicole Farhi among its major clients.
What does this acquisition mean? Are virtual dressing rooms a fad within Japan’s notoriously tech-obsessed market? Actually, no. Rakuten’s e-commerce platform is considered to be one of the largest in the world in terms of sales and this acquisition, for an undisclosed sum, is part of the company’s multi-billion dollar drive to go global.
Besides, Fits.me is just one of a number of companies across the world offering virtual dressing room technology, which comes in various guises and levels of technological sophistication. We should expect to see ‘virtual fittings’ as part of the mainstream shopping experience sooner than imagined.
One of the barriers to online purchase is the inconvenience and the postage cost of returning an unsuitable item. If a consumer knew that the piece of clothing they were buying would be a perfect fit, the more likely they would be to buy it – and retailers mightn’t have to offer free shipping incentives to overcome the problem. With an estimated 30% of all online apparel sales returned, it’s no insignificant issue.
By allowing shoppers to ‘experience’ an item more personally, research suggests they are more likely to make a purchase. A 2015 report by Walker Sands showed that 35% of customers would shop more online if they were able to try items on virtually, rather than just see images of them.
Although costly in the outlay and perhaps considered a bold investment for the vanguard, the advantage for retailers that don’t have bricks and mortar stores in investing in this type of technology is clear – provided it works well.
At its basic level, a virtual fitting requires the user to submit their own measurements to create a representation online. 3D body scanner technology, which has been in commercial use since the turn of the century, turns this into a perfect science.
Acustom Apparel is a US-based startup that offers ‘digital bespoke menswear’. Using an in-store scanner, it creates a digital profile of your entire body shape from 200,000 data points. The resulting 3D body model, combined with the customer’s choice of fit, materials and features, enables the company to produce entirely bespoke items of clothing. They claim the whole process takes 15 minutes – less than the time it takes to try on a few items.
Though a bodyscan entails a physical experience, the data that’s gathered means consumers can go on to shop more seamlessly online. This of course can bring about longer term loyalty, because the customer knows the store has, quite literally, got their measure. Not only is consistency of sizing across different brands not an issue any more, but the potential for customisation increases the propensity to buy.
Virtual fitting is not just a tool for online retailers, it can enhance the shopping experience for customers in-store.
At the end of 2014, Nordstrum joined the ranks of fashion retailers testing out tech-enabled fitting rooms by rolling out a full length mirror-cum-interactive screen in two of its stores. The technology, designed by eBay, allows the customer to browse through items and read product reviews, much like being online. It also features a barcode scanner to check in-store availability and lets shoppers request items to be brought to the fitting room, all of which is designed to enhance the in-store service experience.
But what if you could try on outfits without getting undressed? Using a process of augmented reality, virtual clothing can be superimposed onto the shopper’s mirror image, such as in the video example below. While the technology for this may seem to fall short of the real-life shopping experience of truly wearing an outfit, it enables faster turnaround times for busy shoppers – and, with enhanced data capture possibilities, a curated stylist experience that could potentially rival any real-life personal shopper. One of a number of benefits for retailers is an almost limitless inventory, unrestricted by the store’s actual stock.
While the media surrounding virtual dressing rooms perhaps outweighs the visibility of them in the mainstream retail landscape, the technology is advancing fast. As another example of how lines are blurring between physical and online shopping, the potential benefits for customer experience makes an incredibly strong case for adoption. Watch this space: the vision will become a reality in a short number of years.
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