Emerging Media Field Test: VR Dressing Rooms–Hot or Not?

Introduction:

A Virtual Reality dressing room is a concept that came to mind to solve some of the challenges I’ve faced as a frequent online shopper.  In a digital space, an exact 3D rendering of any individual could be created and 3D models of apparel items that are sold online would be available to dress each individuals’ avatar—revealing common fit issues like length, color and accurate sizing.  I knew this idea would be a challenge from the start, as it would involve many moving parts that would need to work together seamlessly in order to be effective, but through my own experience and research I’d identified a problem in the online shopping industry that I wanted to explore as a part of my final project field test.

Hypothesis:

Creating personalized 3D avatars for people and products offered through online apparel retail stores will significantly decrease the amount of returns to retailers.  The creation and use of 3D avatars will become a more universal and commercial technology used globally for apparel ecommerce.

A Real World Problem and a Digital Solution:

Although my personal dissatisfaction with online shopping was the initial catalyst for this field test, the issue is somewhat of an epidemic; Research shows that there is a disproportionate rate of return for online products as compared to items purchased at a traditional brick and mortar store.  At least 30% of all products ordered online are returned compared to only 8.89% of products sold in-store (Saleh,K.)

infograph

Even further, evidence from a 2016 study showed that 56% of all participants who had purchased any type of clothing online, within the last six months, had returned at least one item (Clancy, O. 2016).  Thinking back on the various emerging media platforms and lessons I’ve learned in MNO 613, this real problem that exists could possibly be solved using a combination of new technologies that could personalize and improve the search for apparel items online.

Technologies:

Photogrammetry, this technology measures the distance between objects, creating images that have depth and accurate composition.  Photogrammetry is currently being used to recreate many types of objects that people want to explore more closely, collect specific information on detailed areas that may be inside or underneath the object and can get a 360 view of the object.  This technology has been great for archived pieces in museums and could certainly be useful in assessing apparel items online that we all want a closer look at.  Using photogrammetry my plan was to capture a three-dimensional image of one test subject as well as a small assortment of sizes of an apparel item offered online in order to assess fit and prove my hypothesis.  I used the iPhone app Trnio [turn-knee-o] to scan and capture my 3D images and turn them into digital avatars and renderings.

I would also rely on a virtual environment where my 3D images could live and be “layered” virtually in what I was referring to as a Virtual Reality dressing room. Sketchfab, is the platform that I chose upload and manipulate my 3D images and make available for my test subjects use.

Focus Group and Target Audience:

I recruited a small focus group of 3 women and 3 men, with varying demo- and psychographics when it comes to online shopping.  The women, whom ranged in age from 16 to 58, each had a positive reaction to shopping and online shopping, while the men stated more neutral to negative opinions on shopping.  “I only shop for clothes when I need something specific” and “Online shopping is easier because I don’t have to try on clothes” were common answers from the men to my survey questions which included:

  1. Which do you prefer more online or in-store shopping?
  2. Do you like trying on clothes?
  3. How frequently do you online shop for clothes?
  4. How often do you return apparel purchases from online shopping because of a bad fit?
  5. Would you use a VR avatar of yourself for online shopping?
  6. Would you spend time making your own custom avatar?
  7. Would you pay for a customized avatar of yourself?
  8. Would you trust a digital dressing room to try on clothes more than reading product descriptions and measurements online?
  9. Do you believe you would have better results with fit using an avatar in a VR dressing room?
  10. If they could not return the item, they would use digital dressing room
  11. Do you think digital dressing rooms should be a service adopted by retailers?
  12. Would you pay extra to use a digital dressing room for more accurate online shopping?

More than half (55%) of my focus group answered that they would use and trust a virtual dressing room to “try on” clothes determine fit, and the majority of that group (36%) stated that they would still only rely on a virtual dressing room if the option to return was still available.  Once the data from my Focus Group was collected, I felt more intimated to start using the actual technologies, because I wasn’t sure how I would manipulate the 3D apparel items with my test subjects’ 3D avatar.

I selected one test subject from my focus group—my roommate who is a millennial male, to serve as my test subject that I would scan and have dress up in my VR dressing room.  My test subject had more familiarity with gaming and VR technology and was not a frequent online subject so I felt he had a good mix of positive and negative attributes for my field test. I used Trnio to create his 3D image, and it was at this point that I encountered my first set of challenges.  I had hoped to produce a full body, 3D image of my test subject but due to space limitations and differences in my height compared to his, I had to adjust my field test for the first time and only do an upper body scan.  This actually worked out fine, because I only intended to evaluate one apparel item so it turned out to be unnecessary to have both his upper and lower body. My test subject was also a great sport and agreed to go shirtless for the scan, I’m not sure how that would have worked out had I decided to evaluate pants in my field test!  The partial body 3D scan that I trimmed and imported into Sketchfab was a little strange, but for the most part it looked like my test subjects’ likeness so I was happy with the result.

Screen Shot 2017-06-18 at 8.58.27 PM

Revised Hypothesis:

Thinking through my original hypothesis during our live class session and having a better understanding of all it required, I quickly realized I was a little in over my head.  Capturing the incremental changes in size for one apparel item and layering them onto my test subjects’ 3D avatar would prove to be a challenge that required a bit more experience and expertise with photogrammetry and virtual reality.  Thinking back to an earlier lesson on the Innovator’s dilemma and how photogrammetry is used in museums, I decided to scale back my overly ambitious original hypothesis for something that might be a little more practical and possibly more effective.

My revised hypothesis stated that a 3D rendering of an apparel items offered on the items’ product detail page, will help shoppers make more improved purchasing decisions and lower the rate of returns. This was a field test I felt more comfortable executing and thus began my exploration.

Field Test:

The product detail page of most items sold online are rather limited as exampled in the photos below.  Measurements are provided and on average, a front and back image is available for review.

Screen Shot 2017-06-18 at 2.40.19 PMScreen Shot 2017-06-18 at 2.44.31 PM

By creating a 3D image of this item, my test subject could have a much more robust and interactive view of the product to better determine how likely he would be to like and keep this product if he were to buy it online.  I chose Target as my retailer because it seemed more likely that I would be able to find the same product online and in-store to create my 3D scan with Trnio.  I located an item that was on a mannequin, which was crucial to my field test, because a hanging item wouldn’t have provided the same level of detail or movement in 3D.  My scan of the item came out good, although the lighting and subsequently the color of the item didn’t translate in Trnio and I was unable to achieve the same quality of trimming that I did with my initial scan of my test subject’s torso.

Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 7.53.19 PM

Once my 3D image was uploaded, I asked my test subject to look at the product detail page of the item on Target’s website and then engage with the 3D model on Sketchfab to see if he would be more or less influenced to buy and retain this item. My test subject’s feedback of the 3D model quickly went from “This is cool” to “It’s hard to move the shirt around and see what I want to see in order to decide.”

I shared my 3D apparel item with my focus group and their feedback was enlightening.  They were all very impressed with adding a 3D model to the product detail page of an online item, but they did not feel as though a 3D model would be enough to ensure the item would fit and prevent them from returning it.  Every person in my focus group said they would view and explore a 3D product render but this would not be enough to influence them to buy if they did not have the option to return the product.

Conclusion:

The general consensus was that there is no substitution for trying on an item at home or in an actual dressing room.  I really believed that I was on to something with this idea, so working through my field test shed a lot of light on the mindset of shoppers, which turned out to be different from my expectations.  Although 3D models might not be enough to decrease the rate of returns and solve the problem online retailers face, it’s my conclusion that this growing industry should still consider incorporating 3D models in an effort to continue modernizing and provide shoppers with as many resources as possible.

Sources

  1. Clancy, O. (May 30, 2016). Most Online Clothes Shoppers Send Something Back. com/News. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/business-36395719
  2. Saleh, K. E-commerce Product Return Rate –Statistics and Trends. Invespcro.com/Blog Retrieved from https://www.invespcro.com/blog/ecommerce-product-return-rate-statistics/
  3. Test Subject 3D model in Sketchfab
  4. Product Detail 3D model Sketchfab
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