*Landsend.com Sizes Up Its Customers

Lands' End Inc. has introduced a series of online tools to personalize the shopping experience on its Web site.

The bells and whistles include scanned images of consumers' bodies stored on the site, an upgraded virtual model, and a personal shopper tool that recommends clothing based on questions asked by the Dodgeville, WI, cataloger and e-tailer.

“What we're trying to effect is incremental improvements in conversion rate and incremental improvement in shopping cart abandonment, and those are metrics that reflect improvements or declines in customer service,” said Terry Nelson, e-commerce marketing manager at Lands' End.

The three tools complement other innovations at landsend.com to enhance online customer service. Lands' End launched Your Personal Model in 1998. It was among the first to introduce live online chats last year and pioneered simultaneous shopping and co-browsing with friends or customer representatives on the site.

The three latest introductions address the key issue facing retailers selling apparel online: the inability of the Internet to offer consumers a tactile, touch, feel and try-on component.

Take, for example, the body scanning effort. Officially called ImageTwin Personal Body Scanning, this produces an exact replica image of the human body that is stored online. ImageTwin, Cary, NC, provides the 3-D body scanning and measurement technology for the Lands' End site. ImageTwin captures the data or fit points and stores that information. My Virtual Model Inc., Montreal, uses that information to create a virtual model. A record of this virtual model is stored at landsend.com and at My Virtual Model at mvm.com.

As part of the Lands' End My Virtual Model truck tour, consumers in 14 cities across North America will be able to scan their body shapes. In addition, ImageTwin will deploy stationary kiosks in malls, retail outlets and health clubs. My Virtual Model Inc. will hold on to that data until the consumer wants to use it.

With My Virtual Model, Lands' End has introduced additional measurement points to outline a more humanlike virtual model. This way, the model is more realistic and can more accurately suggest a size for the consumer. And, for the first time, the site allows for the creation of a male virtual model.

My Personal Shopper is another stab at getting to know the customer's tastes better. Launching soon, this feature contains the online record of the shopper. Such data will include the size and style preferences of the consumer or his family member, creating a virtual closet.

Also, consumers are asked to grade six product-related images. In addition, they list their likes and dislikes. My Personal Shopper then recommends apparel based on the feedback.

“Collaborative filtering doesn't work well for apparel [online] in terms of color, style and fit,” Nelson said. “We're trying new ways of capturing customer history as opposed to using purchase history.”

“I think it gives them a temporary edge,” said Barrett Ladd, senior analyst for retail at Gomez Advisors, Lincoln, MA. “This is something that Lands' End does every year, and it does give them very strong PR when they announce these things because they're introducing technology that's ahead of the curve.

“Nobody else is using this virtual technology or body scanning to date. And it's very comparable to what happened last year with live online chats.”

Though Lands' End may be one of the first to incorporate such body scanning technology with virtual modeling, its rivals are not far behind. Multichannel retailers such as Saks Inc., Ann Taylor, Esprit and Gap Inc. have contracted with EZsize, New York, to incorporate smart-sizing technology that aims to drive online and catalog sales.

Recently, EZsize inked a three-year deal to test and implement its Smart-Fit System on Gap Inc.'s Gap.com, BananaRepublic.com and OldNavy.com sites.

“The big thing with body scanning really is the standardization,” Ladd said. “With companies like EZsize and ImageTwin, they're trying to become the standard for body scanning and virtual modeling.

“Because,” she added, “the idea is really [that] eventually you just plug in your code and you go from site to site, and each of the sites has your measurements and is able to recommend things based on those measurements. So this technology needs to become standard in order for them to succeed, and that's a big challenge.”

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