Check it Out: E-Commerce Gets Real With Virtual Fitting Room
It's not "The Matrix," but augmented reality is a way to create greater connections between what's on the web and what's in front of users' eyes, helping bridge that gap between a visit and a sale.
These new applications interact with the real world by detecting what's going on — generally through motion capture or reading barcodes via camera phones — and offering additional information or functionality that blends the real-life and online experience. Flash a box of cereal in front of your cell phone and get details about the manufacturer's environmental impact and online reputation. Point your webcam at your room and see how the new line of Wal-Mart or IKEA furniture looks in your living space. USPS has even rolled out a "virtual box simulator" to see if that thing you're shipping will fit in its ubiquitous Flat Rate boxes.
The Emperor Has Virtual Clothes
Another example is San Francisco-based online clothing retailer Tobi.com. It's adding motion-activated virtual fitting rooms to its website. Just turn on your webcam, print out a paper with a barcode, stand back and hold the sheet against your body. You appear on-screen in your room surrounded by icons and a menu bar of clothes. Wave a hand so it passes through the controls and you can cycle through styles or grab one to try on.
The clothes don't actually slip over your on-screen body. Instead, they lay against you like some superfuturistic paper doll. It's akin to grabbing an outfit in a store and holding it up in the mirror. The printout tells the app, through your webcam, where and at what distance the clothes should appear. If you like the look, reach for the thumbs-up and it's added to your wish list; if you don't, give it a thumbs-down. You can even take a picture to instantly share on Facebook to see what your friends think.
These features are powered by Fashionista, an augmented reality shopping app based on Zugara's motion capture work and available in RichRelevance's enRICH personalization platform. As part of that suite, Fashionista also provides personalized and crowd-sourced clothing recommendations.
All of that integrates with Tobi.com's one-to-one shopping experience, which uses one-on-one chats to give visitors the feeling of shopping in a real-world boutique with friends, trying on clothes advised by a living salesperson who knows their tastes and histories. The closer Tobi.com gets to the customer's experience of finding something new, getting excited, showing it to friends, screaming, dancing, whatever, the closer it gets to the sale.
Is it better than the real thing? No, not yet. I'm a big guy who never knows if click-ordered clothes are going to fit, and ideally I'd like a virtual fitting room to clear up that question. But Fashionista does give you a better, photo-realistic idea of how an item will look in the wild. In that sense, it takes several steps toward overcoming the barriers to selling personal gear to fickle customers without the benefit of retail locations.
If those barriers face your site, too, check Fashionista out.