Augmented reality marketing. Hand holding smart phone use AR application to check information

The fitting room’s move from physical to digital, already in progress, is taking a leap forward thanks to the coronavirus.

In the COVID-19 era, health concerns surrounding public spaces has trickled into the dressing room, as clothing stores in various stages of reopening cordon off these spaces. Now online fitting tools are poised to graduate from interesting future tech or even novelty to essential feature.

The uptick seems to be driven by consumer demand.

“We’ve seen an incredible acceleration, especially in new usage, since basically the lockdown began, in mid March,” Jessica Murphy, cofounder and chief customer officer of True Fit, told WWD.

The company, which developed a data-driven platform for footwear and apparel retailers, started off focusing on the challenges of fitting shoppers remotely. But over the years, its tech has evolved to power a personalization platform and now informs True Fit’s “Fashion Genome,” a massive connected data set of styles and fit attributes for the footwear and apparel sectors.

True Fit’s client list includes Kate Spade, Kohl’s, Levi Strauss & Co., Macy’s, Ralph Lauren and many more, and its Fashion Genome has mapped the data of 17,000 brands and covers 110 million people. But those figures may balloon even further.

“In our platform alone, we’re seeing new users increase over 100 percent,” Murphy explained. “Beginning in the middle of March, we’re adding about 2 million new users a week to the platform — levels of adoption that we typically see during holiday,” she added. “Most of our resellers are experiencing similar trends — they’re seeing a huge portion of traffic coming from new users they hadn’t seen before.”

Naturally, if a retailer gets remote fitting right, the result is a happy customer who’s satisfied with what he or she purchased. But within that framework, Murphy points to another benefit: If people are happier with products, returns rates go down — and so does the stress and effort around handling merchandise returns.

But there’s a fine line between remote fitting services and virtual fitting rooms. Although related, and often the same or similar tech powers them behind the scenes, the difference has everything to do with what the customer sees.

Most shoppers have had a taste of this sort of tech in one way or another, courtesy of augmented reality. Eyewear companies such as Warby Parker use AR to show shoppers what a style of frames might look like on their faces. Shopify got in on the AR trend by unleashing support for the tech across its platform. In the pre-COVID-19 world, retailers from Timberland to Topshop were dabbling with in-store magic mirrors that layered clothes on people digitally.

While True Fit has explored visualization, the company currently doesn’t offer it. However, numerous other companies have been going after a more robust virtual fitting room scenario, such as Zeekit. The platform, which processes images in real time to allow AR virtual clothing try-on, works with retailers such as Walmart, Macy’s and Asos. The company, which raised $15 million, is poised to nab another round, thanks to new partnerships with Adidas and Tommy Hilfiger.

Now other companies big and small, from Facebook and Amazon to startups like Forma and Bold Metrics, are racing into this space.

The process flow for Bold Metrics and Forma’s combined solution.  Courtesy image

The latter two, which have joined forces in a new partnership, aim to boost accuracy while lowering the friction for consumers. Their model doesn’t have to crawl through hundreds of selfies, force people to measure themselves or ask them to sit through a body scan, nor does it require lengthy surveys. Just four to five short questions.

Bold Metrics’ AI technology “accurately predicts a shopper’s detailed body measurements based on simple survey inputs from the shopper that don’t require a measuring tape or a selfie to generate those predictions,” Daina Burnes, cofounder and chief executive officer, explained to WWD.

“Somewhere within a consumer journey, whether it’s in store or online, the shopper answers these questions and in the back end, Bold Metrics predicts, with machine learning algorithms, the detailed body measurements. So it’s almost like they’re being algorithmically body scanned,” she said.

Thanks to eight years of training data and millions of data points, the system can predict more than 50 body measurements on a shopper.

Those predictions are then mapped to garments and their specification data to generate a size recommendation.

“We take in fabric properties, elements that are used within the design process for the intended fit by design, which also relates to the fabric properties,” Burnes said, adding the company also collects purchase and returns data of the shoppers that go through the tool, so it can inform retailers’ recommendations engines. And the tech’s machine-learning algorithms continuously learn based off of the consumer behavior.

The result, she said, is accuracy that comes within 3 percent of what body scanners produce, and within 1 percent of master tailors wielding measuring tapes.

While that goes on in the back end, Forma’s visualization technology greets customers upfront.

“What we do is digitize clothing and people from a single photo,” Ben Chiang, Forma’s cofounder and ceo, told WWD. “What makes us unique is that we can generate instant and photo-realistic try-ons from a single photo. We use one photo of the person, one photo of the outfit, and we can put the outfit on the person instantly and photo-realistically.”

Interest in Forma and Bold Metrics’ technologies have heightened, the cofounders said, and they’ve struck deals with major retailers to deploy their combined solution, though they declined to discuss the particulars at this time.

The partners believe their combined solution offers an adaptability that’s key. Because it works via an iPad, the tech is accessible for associates on the sales floor, as well as consumers at home, if the retailer wants. And once consumers get used to a shopping tool, it tends to stick around.

For now, it’s clear that the race is on to move the fitting room from the store to the screen, making for a trend that may not subside, even if the coronavirus does.