Virtual changing rooms have technically been available for a while but so far they have not been generally adopted by retailers. If we are to believe all the hype virtual changing rooms are the silver bullet for fashion retailers and totally revolutionise how we shop for clothes both online and instore. So why the hype?
Virtual changing rooms will reduce costs for fashion retailers
The changing rooms are an area of stock loss and are always a high staffing cost, while online customer return 25 percent of purchased clothing with 70 percent being for the wrong size.
Why is this technology so important for customers?
Just imagine you are about to go out to a special event and cannot find the right outfit. Today it’s a real challenge, but tomorrow you go to your favorite retailers website try on a number of outfits via their virtual changing room. They will already have your size programmed and you order. Two hours later, yes two hours later, it’s at your home and you are have the outfit you need. This will be fashion retail of tomorrow.
Virtual fitting rooms normally create a mannequin so shoppers can see how different sizes may fit their shape, by customers simply entering some basic measurements and a virtual mannequin adjusts to fit their dimensions. The customer then can then dress the mannequin with different sizes, allowing them to see how different garments will fit before making their purchase. There are different technical solutions which is making it far more challenging for retailers to pick one.
Body scanners: This technology comes in two distinct flavours: scanners that use technologies such as webcams, phone cameras, or Microsoft’s Kinect device and scanners that uses some more sophisticated technologies requiring the shopper to travel to the scanner. Web and phone camera technologies require users to stand a fixed distance away from the camera and to hold a standard-sized object (such as a CD) that the camera can use as a reference for size.
The more sophisticated scanners that use laser or millimetre wavedetector technology, or even multiple arrays of Kinect sensors, are too bulky and expensive to be used in most stores and are located instead in shopping malls or in large department stores. Customers are required to visit the location to be scanned and this information may then be used on online sites.
3D fitting rooms: These use computer-generated 3D images to create an experience similar to that seen in virtual world computer games. These solutions generate a virtual mannequin (avatar) using customer body measurements and shape information. An avatar of the shopper is created, this requires the shopper to measure himself or herself and provide these data. Sometimes the avatar may be personalised: racially, or by skin tone, or by application of pre-determined hairstyles, or even by uploading an image of a customer’s own face. The avatar may then be used to show how the shopper would look wearing the clothing, accessories and any other items on sale. Versions that are more sophisticated allow side-by-side comparison of different versions of a garment, and enable different items to be tried on at the same time.
3D customer’s model: These solutions allow the shopper to create a 3D version of him or herself using either information taken from scanning devices, by measuring themselves, or by providing other biometric information. The 3D model can also be tweaked to change body shapes. Clothes are then displayed on the 3D avatar, which the customer can personalise by uploading an image of their own face.
Fitting room with real 3D simulation: Real 3D Simulation fitting room combines the features of 3D solutions and photo-accurate fitting rooms. Using a combination of photo and simple body measurements, the solution generates a 3D mannequin, which accurately visualizes customer in chosen apparel items. Normally, the system suggests an appropriate size for entered measurements, but customer can also choose other sizes to estimate their fit.
Augmented reality: Most Augmented Reality Virtual Dressing Room solutions work by superimposing the 3D model or picture of a garment or accessory within the live video feed of the customer. The superimposed 3D model or picture of the garment or accessory will then track to movements of the customer so it appears as if the customer is wearing the virtual item in the video view. Augmented Reality Virtual Dressing Rooms usually require a desktop webcam, a smartphone camera or a 3D camera, such as Kinect, to function. An example of Augmented Reality utilised for Virtual Dressing Rooms includes use of a 3D camera to manipulate areas of a garment or accessory within a display.
Photo-accurate virtual fitting room: This technology is a convergence of two techniques: using real models and dress-up mannequins. Instead of photographing garments on people similar to customer’s shape and size, images are made using shape-shifting, robotic mannequins. The computer-controlled mannequins quickly morph through a series of body shapes and sizes while garments in each different size are photographed and the image stored in a database together with the measurements that generate the image. Since the mannequins are computer-controlled, the whole process is relatively fast. In the final version, the mannequin is edited out from the photography and replaced with a virtual avatar, which can be changed to reflect the brand involved. Once a customer inputs their measurements into the systems, the image in which the mannequin has the same measurements as the shopper is retrieved from the database and shown to the customer.
Dress-up mannequins/mix-and-match: In this variant, clothes and accessories are photographed on real-life mannequins. The mannequins are then edited out digitally from the images and replaced with a virtual mannequin designed to reflect the brand in question. A shopper may then drag and drop (and mix-and-match) clothes on the virtual mannequin. Some of these solutions are being used to replace the real-life models in the garment photography, reducing the cost associated with human models and standardising the photography processes.
Real models: Two variants of this exist, with the first of them now common in many online stores. The product information lists the attributes of the model that is pictured wearing the garments, and details the size of the garment in question. Some businesses have gone further, and provide garment images on multiple models in a variety of sizes. Shoppers may watch a video of each model and interactively manipulate the model on the screen; either to walk or turn around, thereby getting a realistic view of what the garment will look like on a real person.
Virtual dressing rooms summary
Technology is advancing fast and delivering many different options, so it’s clear that technology-based companies believe virtual dressing rooms are worth the investment. Which technology is best is still open to debate, but the best technology does not always determine the winner. It’s a combination of financial investment, marketing, and most importantly - user experience.
The failure to adopt this technology will only be acceptable for the discounters and value retailers. The big question for fashion retailers is which one to choose and for this, all fashion retailers would do well to take independent advice.
Barry Moles is a business consultant at Skyline Business Services, offering independent advice for retailers on strategy, specialising in omnichannel, operations and mobile. He has over 12 years retail consultancy experience and is also a retailer himself.