Amazon.com is reportedly inviting customers into a New York office to measure their body shapes and sizes over a 20-week period in an effort to improve the shopping experience for customers. According to The Wall Street Journal, twice a month volunteers (chosen from a survey) will visit the office in order to allow Amazon to better understand “how bodies change shape over time,” as per the survey. In return, participants will receive $250 Amazon gift cards. The endeavor reportedly is part of Amazon’s recent acquisition of computer vision startup Body Labs, which can create true-to-life 3-D body models to support software applications such as virtually trying on clothes, and its subsequent development of a 3-D body scanning team. The idea is for Amazon to be able to help a customer find a pair of pants that fits her perfectly, or aid customers in visualizing exactly how a dress might suit their particular body types.
Total Retail's Take: Amazon is once again looking to technology to help improve the online shopping experience. One of the key factors that drives people offline and into stores is the inability to try on clothing before purchasing it online. In addition to improving the shopping experience (and potentially increasing conversions), the 3-D body scanning technology could reduce the number of returns that Amazon has to process. It also makes sense that Amazon is investing in apparel solutions, an identified growth target for the company. In addition to launching its own fashion brands, Amazon has also debuted Prime Wardrobe, which lets Prime members select several pieces of clothing at once for delivery, and then return the pieces they don't want to keep. Of course, if body scans were already in place, customers could potentially avoid sizing issues that lead to returns. However, this technology won't suddenly materialize overnight. As Professor Susan Ashdown of Cornell University told The Wall Street Journal, body scanning is “much more complicated than anyone imagines. How you hold your shoulders, the angle of your hips — everything feeds into how well your clothes fit you.” But if Amazon can crack the code, it could spell a brand new era in the realm of online shopping.