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Stamp of Quality for Mass Customization

For more than a century the hard-earned Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval has been stamped into the U.S. consumer’s conscience. But with today’s world awash in information, including product reviews of every ilk, the seal’s cachet might suffer from dilution. Nevertheless, it still stands for quality. One day a newly conceived seal could become a coveted sign of quality. It’s a seal vouching not for the integrity of an item for sale but rather the overall value of a growing kind of online buying experience. It’s the experience of you the consumer personalizing an array of diverse products to meet your specific needs and tastes. Those of us knee-deep in helping to provide the experience call it mass customization.

Two leading experts in the field, Dominik Walcher and Frank Piller, evaluated the websites of 1,000 companies and chose 500 in 20 countries for providing the best-personalized shopping experience. In their extensive study, thought to be the first comprehensive benchmarking of its kind, they also unveiled “The Customization 500 Signet” and said the companies could display it on their websites. The seal can signify quality for “customers, investors, and other interest groups,” Walcher and Piller wrote. The study will be periodically updated and with it the list of companies.

Among the study’s five quantitative categories of comparison were website visualization features such as product pictures (companies with 3D views scored higher) and interactive zooming and turning. Visual realism—how realistic is the visualization during the product configuration process—was among the five qualitative categories. In other words, the heart of what Embodee enables mass customization companies to do.

For developments and insights in mass customization, follow Piller’s blog.

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Startups Innovate in Athletic and Outdoor Apparel Sector

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Internet Retailer: Try Me On

(Excerpted from an Internet Retailer 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 has 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, 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

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Virtual Try-On Powers New Season of Hurley Pants

PORTLAND, OR December 1 ­­– Technology start-up Embodee, whose proprietary online apparel try-on and customization services were developed by award-winning creators of visual effects for The Matrix movies, has launched its second year and expanded services with Hurley, a quintessential youth lifestyle brand. Using Embodee technologies, Hurley’s online shoppers can virtually try-on the full line of Hurley denim styles and washes, and other pants, including corduroys and twills. Now with over 500 digitized pant options to choose from, Hurley customers will benefit from Embodee’s life-like visualizations of best fits from each style and wash on them.