Body-scanning kiosks a perfect fit for retailers (video)

April 19, 2011

The average woman tries on 15 pairs of jeans before buying one pair, according to Women's Day magazine. That's a lot of self-torture in the dressing room, not to mention a lot of time and work for the sales associates fetching different styles and brands. However, there's a new kiosk on the market that promises to make shopping a more pleasant experience for both retailers and consumers by matching shoppers' bodies with the perfect fit and style of clothing.

The mybestfit kiosk, designed by Unique Solutions, is a body-scanning booth that takes body measurements and then matches those results to the sizing specifications of specific apparel brands listed in the kiosk's database. It then provides the shopper with a printout of wardrobe choices available in that retail site that will best fit her body.

Currently, the only mybestfit kiosk is inside the King of Prussia Mall in Pennsylvania, but Bob Kutnick, the company's vice president of Technology, said the kiosks will be in four other malls within a few weeks, and in 45 malls nationwide by the end of the year. The service is free to both malls and shoppers — specific retailers pay the company for inclusion in the database.

"The malls benefit because it gives them a competitive edge over other malls," Kutnick said. "And they aren't out anything. We compensate them for the space we take up and help them market it and hype it up to shoppers."

How it works
The shopper registers basic demographic information, steps into the booth fully clothed and stands still for about 10 seconds while the scanning wand rotates around her.

The "vertical wand" in the booth contains 196 small antennas that send and receive low-power radio waves. In the 10 to 15 seconds it takes for the wand to rotate around a fully-clothed individual, the radio waves send and receive low-power signals. The signals don't "see" a customer's clothing but reflect off their skin which is, basically, water. The signals are similar to, but have far less power (1/1000th) than, a typical cell phone call. When the wand's rotation is complete, mybestfit has recorded more than 200,000 points of measurement. The software then electronically compares a customer's body measurements to the sizing specifications of apparel brands.

After being scanned, the shopper creates a Shopping Guide at one of the touchscreen monitors at the kiosk. The guide pulls from the kiosk's database of clothing brands and styles at the mall that will fit her perfectly, and she can filter the list by brand, style, price or retailer, Kutnick said. The whole process takes about 10 minutes and utilizes a ranking/matching system similar to dating websites.

The system compares the fit at multiple key points, and by combining the relative "closeness" of each of those key points to the customer's measurements it determines a "fit score." It displays recommendations for anything that is above the fit threshold.

"We have a bunch of points, so if we show you a pair of jeans that may fit you perfectly in the butt and legs but is gapping in the waist, they'll be ranked lower than another pair that may fit all areas perfectly," Kutnick said. "We won't recommend anything that doesn't fit, and therefore, it's entirely possible a given store in the mall won't appear on your list."

He said if an item receives a high score, the shopper has more confidence about making the purchase, knowing that it will fit well on many points of fit. If it has a lower rank, but was a style she was looking for, she may still choose to try it on — but the customer's expectations are better managed.

What's in it for retailers?
Although specific brands, such as Old Navy or The Gap, must pay Unique Solutions to be listed in the database, Kutnick said the return on their investment is huge.

"The conversion rate is going to be 50 to 90 percent higher because if it tells you to go to the Gap to buy a pair of jeans, assuming you like the fabric, you are going to buy it because it will fit you," he said. "You're not going to try on a bunch of stuff that doesn't fit, get frustrated and leave."

It also enourages people to try on clothing, because being worried that something won't fit is often the biggest reason shoppers don't want to hit the dressing room, Kutnick said.

What's next
The body-scanning technology doesn't stop at apparel, Kutnick said. Within the year, the machines will work in a variety of different settings, including the health, fitness and automotive industries.

"Right now, it's simply recommending some apparel, but since we have your body dimensionality, it will tell us what bikes and cars best fit you," Kutnick said. "We can also work with you on toning your body, so rather than just weight loss, a number on the scale, you can see how your body has changed, let's say from fat to muscle. So if you wanted to take off stuff in your waistline, we can actually show this visually and highlight it in green, for example. If you gained, we could highlight that in yellow."

Kutnick said Unique Solutions is already working with health and wellness providers and other industry experts to hone the technology in those fields.

"The mall will still use it for apparel, of course, but now maybe it also hosts a BMW day," Kutnick said. "This is really unbelievable."

Watch the video below to see exactly how mybestfit works.

Topics: Customer Experience , Kiosks / Self-Service , Retail - Apparel , Technology

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