From the Los Angeles Times: Virtual fitting rooms changing the clothes shopping experience

High-tech sizing machines scan customers and offer a list of recommended clothing, eliminating returns and providing manufacturers with real-world data.

Los Angeles Times, July 13, 2010

Clothing makers, armed with body data collected from real shoppers, could sew better-fitting garments and more accurately forecast what sizes to stock. Retailers would save on labor needed to fold and rehang rejected garments. Some are already seeing its potential as a marketing tool.

Denim purchases at Bloomingdale’s Century City store shot up in March during the test of a body scanner aimed at helping shoppers find the right pair of jeans, company spokeswoman Marissa Vitagliano said.

Sizing machines are “a great example of using technology to drive sales,” she said. “It’s certainly the wave of the future and we want to be part of that.”

The technology could also help eliminate one of the biggest drawbacks to Internet shopping: returns. More than 20% of apparel ordered online gets sent back. Sizing software being developed for home motion-sensing devices like the popular Microsoft Kinect will soon allow consumers to scan themselves in their living rooms before clicking “purchase” on their computer screens.

“It’s disruptive technology that could break open the whole e-commerce apparel space,” said Raj Sareen, chief executive and founder of Styku. The Los Angeles startup has developed a program that measures users’ dimensions and creates personalized on-screen avatars to digitally “try on” clothes. Using specifications provided by clothing manufacturers, the program can figure out whether that dress will fit like a tent or a tourniquet before a shopper ever takes it off the rack.

Sareen said the company plans to sell the tool directly to consumers for home use by the end of the year, but has not yet set a price. It is also in talks with major retailers to install the software inside store fitting rooms.

Technology companies say virtual fitting rooms and sizing machines turn the shopping experience into a science. In a typical setup, shoppers step fully clothed into a sizing machine and stand still with their arms outstretched. Thousands of points on the body are then measured and mapped — usually by a motion-sensing device or by a vertical wand containing small antennas — and used to determine a person’s unique shape. A shopper is then matched with specific styles of clothing brands to fit his or her body type based on sizing information gathered from retailers’ actual inventory.

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