Virtual fit’s role in retail’s recovery

The technology has seen exponential growth amid accelerated change

Remember when the most challenging thing about fitting rooms was the fluorescent lighting? Long recognized for improving shopper confidence toward purchase, these areas turned problematic in the face of COVID, often remaining shuttered even after physical stores reopened. If only there was a way to instill that same level of confidence toward a digital purchase. As it turns out, there is.

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Virtual fit technology and use has seen exponential growth amid the accelerated change and fresh desire for solutions lately. There’s Fit:Match, a contactless apparel shopping experience setting up shop in numerous Brookfield Properties locations this fall. Forma is a widget that allows retail website visitors to “see” themselves in an outfit within seconds by uploading a photo — or use the Forma app to virtually “try on” items from a number of stores.

And there’s True Fit, a veteran that’s been adding 2 million new users every week in recent months. The platform organizes industry data around customer preference and product attributes to recommend the perfect style, fit and size.

For those on the fence about upping technology to increase conversions, it’s likely time to choose a side. Customer expectations are changing and might not return to what they once were.

“One of the things that has surprised me is to see some retailers organizationally in the fetal position as a result of what’s happening,” says Jessica Murphy, True Fit’s co-founder and chief customer officer. “It’s heartbreaking to watch. But some retailers are really embracing it and saying, ‘You know what? We have customers to service, and a role to play.’ They are making changes while others are recoiling. I think it’s a foreshadowing of who’s going to make it and who’s not going to make it through this.”

Building a connection

It wasn’t long ago that Forma’s co-founder and CEO Ben Chiang wondered why retailers could be so slow to incorporate a digital dressing room widget. Its mere presence had been proven to increase overall sitewide conversion by 10-50 percent, depending on the merchant.

“But at this point, we work with 600-plus merchants, and have run data on hundreds of thousands of shoppers,” he says. “And we know that shoppers who ‘try on’ are 10-20 times more likely to buy.”

The pandemic shifted the focus. “It gave us the opportunity to say, ‘Hey, this is an opportunity for you to build connections with shoppers that you previously did through your stores, or your fitting rooms, or your sales associates,’” he says. “Now, if you’re hanging on to your online experience alone, how do you build a connection? We’ve definitely experienced a lot more open ears.”

Forma app for virtual fit tech

With Forma, a website visitor can upload a single photo to instantly see themselves – rather than a model they might not relate to – in the clothing. This summer, a Forma/Bold Metrics partnership took things a step further; visitors can now answer a handful of questions to determine the right size.

Bold Metrics uses AI technology to predict accurate measurements; Forma creates the photo-realistic virtualization to know where an item might be loose or snug. It’s seeing particular success in categories such as swimsuits, suits and wedding dresses, Chiang says, but it won’t be long until customers expect to be able to try on every item they peruse online.

“If you saw something in a store, and asked to try it on, and they said no, how would you feel?” he says. “Weird, right? You’d say, ‘OK,’ and then you’d go to the next store. That’s how it will be online, as well.”

Time back in their hands

Months before the pandemic hit, Fit:Match founder and CEO Haniff Brown had already been asking why, in the 21st century, shoppers still had to try on clothing.

In late 2019, Fit:Match collaborated with Brookfield Properties to put a pilot studio in Houston’s Baybrook Mall. Visitors use their mobile devices to answer questions about fit and preferences, and the scanner captures about 150 points of body data in about 10 seconds. Users are then “fitched” with a curated assortment.

The pandemic has rapidly deepened Fit:Match’s partnership with Brookfield Properties; an updated fully contactless version of the experience will be available in Chicago, Los Angeles and Dallas this year. It’s appealing for shoppers, Brown says, but also for brands and retailers. “The data that we can collect in those two minutes rivals what an online brand collects in months if not years — and only if the customer stays with that brand for that time,” he says.

In addition to showing shoppers items from retailers onsite, Fit:Match will display items from direct-to-consumer brands that dropship to customers’ homes. It also can include international retailers, taking the guesswork out of sizing. “The consumer of the future will want time back in their hands,” he says. “But they won’t want a tradeoff in quality.”

Playing a role in the recovery

True Fit has been a high-adoption technology since its 2005 start, when digital penetration was just beginning. In recent months, growth rates have been similar to holiday levels, Murphy says, with no sign of slowing down. True Fit now has about 180 million registered users who have opted in to the universal profile.

“We know everything about their height, their age, their weight, their affinities,” she says. And in concert with the company’s retail partners, True Fit recently opened an opportunity to access that audience directly, rather than simply as business intelligence.

True Fit app

“That was really important for us to do. We play a role in the recovery of this industry,” Murphy says. “Radical change calls for radical action. We couldn’t just sit by with this huge audience of people that we know very intimately, and not share that very directly.”

As for physical retail, a number of True Fit partners have begun allowing shoppers to scan QR codes to help drive personalization of their in-store assortments. “One of the things we’re experiencing is that the service in stores looks different,” Murphy says. “Even store associates have this conflict: I know that I need to be service-oriented and help consumers find what they need, but I can’t get close to them. So how do I do that in a mask, six feet apart, in a way that still feels comfortable?

“One of the things I’m most proud of is that we, as an organization, were able to create a set of assets for our retailers to leverage True Fit in a new channel, in a very deliberate way,” she says. “We’re proud of the fact that we bear responsibility with the recovery and do what’s within our power to help these retailers that are suffering so much.”

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