(Excerpted from an article published Feb. 1, 2012.)
Virtual fitting rooms a leg up in battle for apparel sales.
Apparel e-retailers have always had an Achilles' heel. How do they appeal to consumers wary of buying online because they want to know how a piece of clothing fits?
Even with online apparel sales projected to rack up double-digit annual percentage gains for the next few years, according to Forrester Research Inc., retailers know they could sell more online if they could satisfy shoppers accustomed to trying on clothes before making a purchase.
Technology vendors have tried for years to come up with ways to enable consumers to virtually try on apparel, without notable success. But a new crop of technologies have emerged in recent years that mimic store dressing rooms or advise consumers on what items are likely to fit them well. And, while they're not cheap to deploy, some retailers say these new systems are boosting conversion rates, reducing returns and making online clothes shopping more fun.
Jeans that fit
Take Hurley, a clothing brand and retailer that implemented an online try-on application from Embodee to the denim section of its e-commerce site in October 2010. On category and product pages, denim shoppers see a large button reading, "See These Jeans On You." When clicked, the Embodee application takes a shopper to a page that first asks for height and weight. Step two features slider bars and asks for waist, hip and inseam measurements.
The final step asks the shopper to select the silhouette of her hips—straight or rounded—and her fit preference—snug, roomy or loose. The app then returns images of what she would look like in each of three different sizes of the jeans selected. One image shows the model with a color-based scale designating portions of the garment that are loose, snug or tight. White parts of the image designate a loose part of the garment where, the application explains, the "fabric barely touches the skin." Red portions are snug: the "fabric touches skin everywhere."
The technology is helping spur denim sales for Hurley.com, whose target demographic is young, sophisticated online shoppers comfortable with advanced technologies, says Jeff Hurley, vice president of the digital side of the retailer's business. Since deploying the Embodee technology Hurley has seen its conversion rate for denim items increase significantly and had fewer returns. "Denim is historically our highest return percentage as a category," he says. "Since Embodee, our return rate on denim is down about 34%."
The cost of Embodee ranges from $20,000 to $100,000 per year; pricing is based on the number of items the technology is applied to and how often shoppers use it, says Embodee founder and CEO André Wolper. He says the application requires the digitization of each garment, a complicated process that takes into account gravity and garment weight in simulating how an item would drape on a body.