On the Tech Helping Shoppers Find the ‘Perfect Fit’

Published on25 FEB 2019

The article below is from our BRIEFINGS newsletter of 25 February 2019

As more people buy their clothes online, companies are rolling out technologies to provide customers with a more precise fit. We sat down with Sho Kawano of Goldman Sachs Research to learn more about this “body measurement technology,” its advantages for companies and consumers, and the applications beyond retail.   

What is this technology and why is it gaining popularity?

Sho Kawano: Body measurement technology is an emerging field that makes it possible for consumers, without any tailoring experience, to accurately measure their body dimensions. Its popularity is on the rise as more people buy clothing online. E-commerce’s portion of the apparel market is forecast to grow significantly in several major economies, rising to 42% in the UK and 24% in Japan by 2023 from 22% percent and 11%, respectively, in 2016. Online apparel retailers, for their part, are adopting body measurement technology to address a key consumer pain point — namely, the difficulty of buying clothes without being able to try them on first – in a bid to both unlock new growth and cut operating costs.

How does the technology work? 

SK: There are various applications already in the market that can help consumers choose better-fitting clothing or order custom-made products online. One such tool is known as a “fit guidance solution,” an online tool that prompts customers to answer several questions about their size, fit and style preferences. The answers are then run through an algorithm or compared with the retailer’s proprietary sizing charts before making size recommendations. In some cases, shoppers will be able to “try out” clothing on a virtual avatar, or can compare potential purchases against items in their current wardrobe.

There are also hardware-based measurement solutions, such as 3D body scanners and measurement suits, which offer a higher level of measurement accuracy. For example, in 2017 Japanese e-commerce clothing retailer ZOZO launched an in-home measurement system that enables shoppers to get precise body measurements by wearing sensor-enabled spandex bodysuits. Now, however, these hardware-based solutions are giving way to cheaper and more convenient measurement technologies powered by big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning. Shirt maker Original Stitch has pioneered a Bodygram technology that produces up to 16 different body area measurements based on the user’s age, height, weight and gender, as well as two submitted smartphone photos. The system utilizes machine vision to identify the body within the photo, machine learning to predict the shape, and a proprietary algorithm to calculate the circumferences and length of each body part. Other photo-based solutions use big data from existing anthropological studies to refine the measuring process further. We expect the accuracy of these camera-based solutions to continue to improve as more people use smartphones with built-in 3D sensing functionality.

What are the implications for online retailers?

SK: Finding the perfect fit can help boost online apparel sales but there are other applications. Measurement solutions allow apparel makers to collect and harvest a vast amount of data that can be used to optimize their sizes and designs and, in turn, boost customer satisfaction. Online retailers deploying the technology are also likely to cut their shipping costs due to lower product return rates. In addition, the technology can also help apparel retailers and manufacturers lighten their environmental impact with the reduction in carbon generated from shipping returns. We’ll also see less unwanted clothing end up in landfills.

Can the technology be used in other ways?

SK: Yes—we think access to precise measurement data could give rise to new business opportunities beyond apparel. Within the retail sector, the ability to tailor products to customers’ individual dimensions could facilitate new levels of customization such as made-to-measure mattresses or other furniture. Body measurement data can also be used for identification, opening up potential applications in security and access control. And in the fitness arena, startups are already rolling out applications that provide 3D body scans to help dieters and exercise enthusiasts visualize their progress toward weight loss or muscle growth goals. This means we could start seeing new supply chains emerge across sectors as companies build these customized solutions.