Shopping Experience for Satisfied Customers
A ghostwritten article intended for the internet – used by permission.
Many consumers have a love/hate relationship with shopping but like death and taxes, it’s inevitable. Whether a loaf of bread, a work suit or a microwave, at some point, everyone has to buy something.
This doesn’t change the fact that worldwide, retail business is in a remarkable state of flux. Brick and mortar stores are seeing statistics that point at customer satisfaction falling as much as 15% a year at retail outlets. Now, for the first time in decades, the face of selling is changing dramatically as new technologies evolve.
Online buying, everything from groceries to clothing, solves many of our shopping nightmares. But, in areas such as apparel, it’s not so straightforward. As a colleague says, “I shop online often but we women need answers before we’ll commit our money, like how do the sizes run?”
Could virtual fitting be the answer to this? Lack of standardized sizing across the clothing industry already makes fitting a gamble. With ‘vanity sizing’ and imported merchandise, people can have three or four sizes of clothing in their closet at any given time, and every garment fits.
One system is honing in on the problem of accurate fit using 3D body imaging. Me-Ality provides scanning booths, called Size Matching Stations, at malls in the US and Canada. A wand is passed around the fully dressed client for about 15 seconds, recording 200,000 points of reference, from which exact measurements are taken.
Customers are given a printout of the sizes they need, in brands available at participating stores, effectively removing guesswork as long as the shopper sticks to those brands. Because each individual’s unique body shape is taken into account, the results are extremely accurate.
Shopping with Dummies
Estonian company, Fits.me, uses advanced robotics to solve the problem of a virtual fitting room for online clothing shoppers.
Once on a retailer’s site, the customer has only to enter four basic measurements, and choose a torso type to see the fit of an item, as it would look on them. Robotic models mimic the size and shape of the patron and return the visual result by displaying the garment on their body type.
Originally, the service was offered for men on the website of London based shirtmakers, Hawes and Curtis. Retailers have been anxiously awaiting the development of a female Fits.me model, which is now being offered (in test version) on the Fits.me website.
Back to the Future
Some questions customers ask are more challenging to quantify than sizing. Consumers want to know – How will this look on me? Can I wear this color? Will this top go with my burgundy jeans?
Then again, purchases can fail because some small detail makes an item unsuitable such as badly placed pockets or sleeves ending at an unattractive length.
Metail is a virtual fitting room that addresses these tricky questions. Since February 2012 the Metail system has been available via Tesco UK. Working online, customers create a personalized 3Dmodel using basic measurements and two photos. This model can then be saved and used with all the Metail retail partners.
Metail is easy to use, and gives a realistic view of how clothes will look in a specific cut or color, something the previous two systems can’t yet offer.
For fun, clients can also experiment with different hairstyles, emphasizing the “dress-up” factor, a radically popular feature.
By now, most of us will have seen Kinect technology in action or used a virtual mirror, although these can’t promise an item’s perfect fit.
What’s there is the before-the-mirror-moment when the shopper holds the garment up against herself to check variables like cut or color. Although no single technology claims to have all the answers, this still provides useful information for the consumer.
Other virtual dressing room options include smart phone apps that use augmented reality to do the job. Could the real future of online fitting be found using augmented reality?
While technology catches up with the market, the answer to shopping satisfaction seems to rest in old-fashioned customer service applied in radical new ways. Some type of “dressing room” experience coupled with a personal connection; an element of playfulness
Something Old – Something New
Online companies like Indochino are radical pioneers, taking their wares on the road as the “Traveling Tailor.”
They offer a “bespoke” fit in men’s suits, based on detailed measurements and exceptional materials. Cyber customers take their own measurements (with a friend’s help) by following detailed online video instructions.
By placing an emphasis on personalized customer services and giving unequalled value, Indochino are market leaders. You still have to wait four weeks before you’ll experience the fine fit and beautiful fabric of your new purchase but this doesn’t seem to bother any of their raving fans.
Make it Memorable
Craft impressive experiences for customers by giving them what they need to make good choices, but don’t neglect the basics.
Rock star businesses are collecting kudos from happy customers by using evolving technologies to solve shoppers’ problems. But the dash of “extra” – the option of changing hairstyles (virtually) – for example, attracts new visitors, anxious to try it out.
After all, it’s the extras that elevate an experience from mundane to memorable.