NEWARK, Del. — Like many women, Diane Greer would prefer to prolong the “delusion” that she is one or two sizes smaller than reality.
So, when the Newark resident encountered a body scanner at Christiana Mall recently — one that promised to spit out a list of sizes and styles of pants, tops and dresses to fit her unique body shape — she took a pass.
“If I did it, I know I’d be upset,” the grandmother said. “I’m in denial.”
Remember the virtual closet from the movie “Clueless,” which helped Cher select the trendiest duds by digitally placing them on her body?
Today, virtual dressing rooms are the latest innovation to win the hearts and wallets of time-strapped consumers. At its core, the technology relies on augmented reality, combining real images with virtual ones to encourage shoppers to play around with different products.
Using webcams, iPads, mobile apps, and touch-screen mirrors, retailers such as Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, J.C. Penney and Nordstrom allow shoppers to test drive what clothes look like on their actual bodies, not skinny mannequins. That includes plus and maternity sizes.
In the end, consumers get educated on the right fits for their bodies that are on trend without shedding a stitch of clothing, said Joanna Gould, vice president of operations for Me-Ality, which owns one scanning station at Christiana and at 69 other shopping centers nationwide.
“I might not look in Express when, in reality, there might be many products there that fit me and fit me well,” she added.
Think about it: No more crazy dressing room lines, where your arm feels like it’s going to fall off from the weight of all the clothes that probably won’t fit anyway, or will look hideous under the fluorescent lights. Not to mention all the time saved in return hassles.
But the technology also takes a jab at one of the last advantages of brick-and-mortar retail — the ability to try on clothes before you buy.
Online sales on Black Friday alone increased 21 percent over last year, according to data collected from 500 retailers by IBM’s Smarter Commerce arm.
To be sure, physical stores are struggling to compete, resorting to DJ events with free bubbly. Gould suggests that the sizing stations give mall stores an edge, because shoppers receive a list of items carried by select retailers on-site. A list of skirts, for instance, can span three sizes, depending on the brand. Ideally, the customer heads directly to the store to touch and feel the item before buying — what is known in retailer lingo as the “easy sell.”
But while the mall kiosk might recommend products from four of five higher-end retailers, such as White House Black Market, J. Crew and Ann Taylor, Me-Ality users who create an online profile have access to almost 200 brands online, with direct links to store websites.
“A lot of companies are looking to build both sides of the business,” Gould said.
Online retailers were early adopters of time-saving technologies, offering build-your-own models, detailed product specifications, zoom-in viewing and side-by-side product comparisons. Partnering with provider My Virtual Model, Lands’ End was among the first retailers to provide a virtual dressing room for swimsuit shoppers — a stroke of genius considering the trauma associated with bikini buying.
Last year, California-based FaceCake Marketing Technologies launched the Swivel virtual fitting room, using Microsoft’s Kinect sensor and a camera attached to the TV to provide a digital tailor in the privacy of your own home. Users stand in front of the screen and gesture to outfits they want to try on from a digital library. The sensor creates a digital overlay on a shopper’s live image, producing a form-fitting outfit at different angles. Swivel, which is still not widely available, also offers wardrobe recommendations and allows users to share images so that their friends can weigh in.
The average shopper tries on about 45 products through Swivel, considerably more than he or she would try in an actual dressing room, according to FaceCake executives.
Bloomingdale’s, which worked with FaceCake to build a library of outfits by Rachel Zoe, Nanette Lepore and others, demonstrated the technology at its 59th Street store during New York Fashion Week last fall.
The retailer also teamed up with Microsoft to create a “Printing Dress,” which project tweets on a dress with a built-in keyboard. No word yet on whether that product will actually make it to the sales floor.
Similarly, auto, shoe, makeup and hair styling product manufacturers have experimented with Kinect technology. Ikea offers a 3-D catalog that places prospective buyers into home models to assess furniture dimensions.
Me-Ality, a Canadian company from parent Unique Solutions Ltd., plans to operate 300 kiosks by the end of next year. So far, Christiana is the only location in Delaware. Future locations could include anywhere people have to wait for long stretches, such as at the ballpark or airport, Gould said.
Resembling an airport security booth, Me-Ality delivers radio waves from nearly 200 antennas, which reflect off the skin to measure 200,000 different points on the body. The shopper remains fully clothed during the 20-second process, but is encouraged to remove cellphones, keys and belts that might interfere with the results.
Along with participating stores like Gap, Levi’s, and American Eagle, health researchers are mining the Me-Ality database of more than 20,000 individual scans a week for information on heights, weights and body mass indexes to determine health risk factors.
Forty-seven percent of users buy one of their recommended items, according to company statistics. Christiana shoppers who return to Me-Ality with their receipts receive a $5 Starbucks gift card.