'Virtual mannequins' promise better fit for online shoppers
For many people, shopping for clothes online can be a bit of a gamble.
You only find out if what you've ordered actually fits you once it's arrived - and if it doesn't, there's the hassle of packing it back up and returning it. It's a bigger problem than you may think.
"Almost one in four garments are being returned - 70% of those returns are because the customer's got the wrong size," says Heikki Haldre, chief executive and founder of London-based Fits.me.
Companies like his are using technology to reduce these high return rates.
Fits.me has developed a virtual fitting room that works in conjunction with a retailer's online store. Shoppers enter some basic measurements and a virtual mannequin adjusts to fit their dimensions.
The user can then dress the mannequin with different sizes, allowing them to see how different garments will fit before making their purchase.
More than 30 retailers have already signed up to the service, including Superdry, Hugo Boss and Thomas Pink.
Being more confident about getting clothes that fit also means shoppers buy more, says Mr Haldre.
"It removes the risk when buying online. And when this risk is taken away, the sales for the retailers increase. Fits.me virtual fitting room users buy almost two times more than non-users."
E-sizing technology has entered the world of high-end, bespoke menswear, too. Carlos Solorio, co-founder of American firm Arden Reed, wanted to change the way men were measured for clothes.
"Tailoring hasn't really changed in the last 200 years," he says. "And so we came up with The Tailor Truck."
His customised van is equipped with the latest 3D scanning technology and travels around the US. Using 14 Kinect sensors, the scanner takes more than 3.5 million body point measurements. These are sent to a production facility in Asia and the customer receives their tailor-made suit in four to six weeks.
"Customers get a custom suit with a price ranging from $500-1,500 (£300-900), which is lower than your typical custom suit," says Mr Solorio.
"We saw a problem in the market," he says. "Custom suiting was really limited towards wealthy individuals, and the experience wasn't the best.
"You'd have to do various fittings, you'd pay upwards of two or three thousand dollars for one suit, and the fit wasn't always there, even with an experienced tailor."
Computer scientists at London College of Fashion are developing software that allows shoppers to use their own, domestic equipment to try to find the perfect fit.
"Many people shopping online don't know their size for that particular brand," says Mouhannad Al-Sayegh, from the college's Fashion Digital Studio.
Using their own camera, whether a webcam or on a smartphone, the consumer takes an image of themselves and uploads it to the site. They tell the computer where their hands and feet are and provide some basic data like their height, weight, age and gender.
This information is sent to the server and the computer does the rest. It identifies the shopper's body shape, removes that from background, and then extracts the measurements.
"We realise people might have busy backgrounds, so we developed this technology so that it can be used anywhere. Even if you have a busy background, this algorithm will be able to pick that person out," Mr Al-Sayegh says.
Using garment data provided by the retailer, the software is able to make a size recommendation for the shopper. Mr Al-Sayegh hopes it won't be long before the technology is available on most online clothing stores.
"If we can provide technology that will help customers find their size at home, this will significantly reduce the returns rate."
And that's not just good for the consumer - it's good for the business.
On many occasions retailers cover the costs of ill-fitting items being returned. And when they are returned, they're often resold only at a heavily discounted price. This means retailers lose out.
"The problem is about €12bn (£10bn) - this is the value of garments either being returned or lost sales," says Heikke Haldre of Fits.me.
And then there are the environmental impacts. Mr Haldre says that for every 100 sales, there are 162 shipments due to returns and exchanges.
"One thing for me is clear," he says. "The virtual fitting rooms, whether it's Fits.me or whether it's someone else, these will be the standard solution for online shopping."
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