LANDSEND.COM’S NEW SOFTWARE A PERFECT FIT

Byline: Valerie Seckler

NEW YORK — “Yes, the fit of apparel has to be perfect — but we also have to have fun with people.”
That’s the word from Louise Guay, founder and president of My Virtual Model Inc., the Montreal-based software developer whose new technology forms the platform for the latest evolution of its My Personal Shopper mannequin, one of the Internet’s earliest apparel shopping tools, which has been renamed My Virtual Model.
The new version, slated to go live at LandsEnd.com this Friday, allows users to create a more accurate representation of their bodies by incorporating data gleaned from a body-scanning procedure, which is executed in just 12 seconds and captures more than 200,000 data points of a body image.
The technology’s debut will mark the first fully automated, Web-enabled body scanning system available in a broad-based consumer application and will extend the scope of past efforts on that front, such as Nike Town’s short-lived experiment with foot scanning at its 57th Street flagship here, and Levi Strauss’s fling with a body-scanning kiosk to customize jeans in a San Francisco store. Early attempts like those were constrained commercially because they were confined to custom applications that required users to return to a store to be scanned each time they wanted to buy a product.
Beginning this week and continuing through 2001, LandsEnd.com and Cary, N.C.-based ImageTwin Personal Body Scanning will deploy more than 50 body scanners in shopping malls, health clubs and stores in major cities throughout North America in a move to make the technology more widely available. To hawk the offering to the public — and help make people feel more comfortable about having their bodies scanned while being bathed in flashing white lights — LandsEnd.com has also kicked off a My Virtual Model tour that is taking a van with a handful of ImageTwin body scanners through 12 North American cities through Dec. 15. The tour is here through Thursday, when it will head to Albany, and then continue to Ottawa; Syracuse; Rochester; Buffalo; Toronto; Chicago; Milwaukee; Madison, Wis.; Minneapolis and St. Paul; Vancouver, and Portland, Ore.
In Guay’s view, consumers are ready for this take on apparel tech because they “don’t only want to be described by numbers,” she said in referring to the simple sizing charts commonly found in catalogs to help shoppers determine the correct size to order. “When shopping for apparel online, the way something appears to fit becomes an element of one’s personal style; a person has to feel ‘it looks like me.”‘
According to Guay, another handful of e-tailers are getting ready to integrate the updated version of My Virtual Model into their Web sites: American Eagle, Wedding Channel and Guess.
“We have added American Eagle and are in final talks with Wedding Channel and Guess, which is exciting for us because it is an important fashion brand,” Guay said.
Here’s how the new setup works: a customer steps into a body-scanning booth to slip into some snug-fitting activewear — shorts and a belly-bearing tank top — and remove all jewelry and eyewear. Then, a plastic card encoded with some password-protected personal identification data is swiped near a mirrored door, which then opens to reveal the body-scanning apparatus.
Finally, the scannee steps onto a pair of neon footprints, triggers the scanner with the thumb and holds onto a pair of arms protruding from the walls of the scanner to provide a still image, a process completed in 12 seconds.
The password-protected image gleaned from the scanning booth, which occupies about 50 square feet, is available to be integrated into My Virtual Model immediately after it’s captured at a hard-wired location, or within two hours after it’s taken at a mobile unit.
At that point, the consumer can create his or her own virtual model based on 12 measurements captured from the 200,000 data points taken of the body, up from seven measurements in the earlier version of the technology.
Then, the shopper can drag and click clothing images onto that form to see how they might fit.
“These new tools represent the biggest shift in the apparel direct-to-consumer market,” said Bill Bass, senior vice president of e-commerce at Lands’ End, in a statement. “In addition to offering consumers an engaging Web experience, My Virtual Model is designed to take the guesswork out of shopping for apparel online.” LandsEnd.com has taken an innovative approach to shopping online, having introduced My Personal Shopper back in 1998, for example, and a Shop With a Friend feature last year.
The new fit system was developed based on research with consumers whose priorities came as a surprise to Guay.
“We wanted to bring lots of new technologies, like audio and visual effects, but people said they wanted fewer gadgets and better assortments of merchandise,” she recounted. “They were especially interested in seeing more styles of things such as swimwear and lingerie, items that are hard to try on and fit in real life, let alone on the Web.”
Starting Friday, visitors of LandsEnd.com will be able to try on several hundred apparel items that mix and match to create nearly one million different outfits; the goal is to offer almost every Lands’ End item to try on in the future.
Next up from My Virtual Model Inc., said Guay, will be an application enabling “truly three-dimensional representations of apparel images online. We have been developing this with Intel and Micromedia, and we expect to introduce it during the first half of 2001,” Guay noted.
“J.C. Penney has OK’d a test of it, and we expect Lands’ End to OK it soon,” she said.

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