Body Scan Technology: A New Frontier in Apparel eCommerce

As shopper frustrations around apparel sizing continue to build, will body scan technology provide brands with the holy grail solution?

"Clothing sizes are broken" is a saying we in the apparel industry hear on a daily basis. While this statement may not be definitively true, the apparel sizing process is quite complex, and most brands do not have the insights needed to tailor their products around the body types of their shoppers.

Recently there has been a renewed interest in 3D technology from apparel brands looking to address the eCommerce sizing crisis. The overall reception to this technology has been somewhat mixed. Some brands claim that utilizing 3D body data is too complicated, time-consuming, and expensive, while others praise the technology, stating it will eventually replace clothing sizes entirely.

As brands continue to search for the holy grail solution to sizing, we thought it best to shed more light on the intricacies behind body scans and how they have affected sizing strategy throughout the years.   

The Origins of Body Scan Technology

A woman using a BIA body scan technology

The strict definition of a body scan is, an application of various technologies to analyze a person's body composition. Despite the futuristic-sounding nature of that definition, the first "body-scanning" technology was established in the early 1980s using a process called bioelectrical impedance analysis.

BIA testing involved sending weak electric currents throughout one's body to gauge body composition, particularly body fat and muscle mass. While this process was quite popular at the time (due to the simplicity of execution and portability of equipment), BIA tests can hardly be considered true body scans for several reasons:

  • Test results could vary greatly depending on one's hydration levels which change from session to session.
  • Results could also be skewed if participants had exercised prior to a BIA test, as impedance levels are altered during and shortly after physical activity.
  • There is no viable way to determine the precise body dimensions of the scanned person using a BIA test which hinders the utility of the test results.

While BIA was technically the first body scan technology, its use case was (and remains) strictly confined to health and wellness, specifically for those looking for enhanced clarity on how they are losing weight or increasing muscle mass. As we move past BIA testing into the modern era of scanning technology, body scanning becomes a much more immersive and refined experience.

Modern Body Scan Technology

Modern scanning solutions leverage depth-sensing cameras, image sensors, and cloud technology to analyze human bodies. Scanners either encapsulate the entire body or anchor it to the device itself to ensure maximum accuracy. The scanning process usually takes less than a minute as the participant's body is analyzed from top to bottom, while 3D avatars are created in the background to represent the participant's body dimensions. While there are several methods of conducting a full-body scan, here are the most established scanning methods to date:

A Fit3D user performing a body scan using the Fit3D Pro Scanner.

  • The Human Solutions / Avalution Process: Scanners are transported throughout a specific region to capture a relatively low amount of professionally administered scans. The scan captures are stratified to represent one of each distinct body type and are filtered by age, sex, and other primary identifiers. While these scans are very accurate, the low quantity of scans conducted (10-18k total) means that the data pool is too small to be statistically significant.
  • The Fit3D Process: Rather than relying on people to administer scans, Fit3D developed AI to filter through scan data ensuring cleanliness and accuracy. A semi-strict dress code (skin-tight clothing) and anchored body positioning via handles are also required to ensure each scan produces reliable results. Millions of self-administered scans are processed through health and wellness facilities annually, adding to Fit3D's extensive database of body data that can easily be subsampled to represent any population segment.
  • The DEXA Scan Process: The "gold standard" for body scan technology is dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry or DEXA. This process measures body composition entirely through X-ray beams and spectral imaging. The results of these scans are extensive; DEXA scans reveal to participants (in great detail) how their lean mass, fat mass, and overall skeletal health are constantly changing. Unlike BIA analysis, these tests can capture the most intricate body dimensions and are executed using heavy-duty scanners that are essentially immobile and exceedingly expensive. DEXA remains the most accurate body composition scanning procedure to this day, which is why WAIR's parent company, Fit3D, has solidified an official partnership with DexaFit to optimize their algorithms for the most accurate body predictions.

So there you have it; you're now a body scan expert! But how does this technology affect the apparel industry specifically?

Uncovering the Checkered History of 3D Technology in Apparel

A 3D avatar used to determine garment size and fit and body scan technology

During its initial debut into the world of apparel, body scan technology was heralded as the one true solution to the sizing crisis. In the coming years, however, brands would discover that this technology didn't necessarily solve the holy grail riddle of sizing as they hoped it would.

The factors that contributed to this outcome include:

  • Historically exorbitant costs for scanning equipment, resulting in an overall lack of investment from clothing brands.
  • Inaccurate scans were somewhat common due to variables such as clothing worn, light reflection from hair and skin, inconsistencies in measuring techniques between scanners, and a lack of standardized measuring methods.
  • Storing and analyzing swaths of shopper body data derived from scanning would strain a brand's available resources unless they outsourced this task. 

The issues mentioned above proved to be too significant for body scan technology to thrive during its initial debut into the world of apparel. But now that interest surrounding this technology has returned, and the solutions are more refined than ever before, body scan technology is poised to make a significant splash in the world of modern eCommerce.

An Unexpected Lifeline for Apparel eCommerce

The average male and female body dimensions represented through body scan technology

It's no secret that poor sizing and fit are the primary reasons why shoppers return apparel that was bought online. Brands have tried many methods to mitigate these issues, including size chart optimization, offering "custom" tailoring, and leveraging customer reviews. While some of these solutions bore fruit, they ultimately served as half measures, not fit to address the entirety of the problem.

The majority of modern solutions to the sizing crisis rely on purchase and returns data or the sizing strategy of competing brands to help shoppers order their best-fitting sizes. While these are admirable efforts to solve the issue of sizing, WAIR took the path less traveled by harnessing the power of AI-driven, 3D technology to provide shoppers with seamless and accurate size recommendations.  

Rather than requiring each shopper to get scanned or take photos of their body, WAIR leverages its exclusive database of over 2.5 million unique body scans to accurately predict shopper body dimensions. Armed with this information, Fit Advisor creates a complete 3D view of the shopper's body shape by aligning their dimensions with the scan that matches them best. 

This groundbreaking approach to the eCommerce sizing crisis has empowered WAIR to offer personalized and accurate sizing solutions at scale while providing brands with the critical insights needed to shape their sizing strategy around the bodies of their shoppers. Our vast datasets also provide insight into individual shopping habits, how specific body types interact with your brand, inventory/supply chain optimization, and so much more.    

Compared to traditional sizing methods, WAIR's sizing solutions see an average 800% gain in conversion rates and a 21% reduction in product return rates. As brands continue to provide their shoppers with our powerful sizing tools, these already impressive numbers will only continue to grow.

Flourishing in a New Digital Era

While body scan technology in apparel remains a relatively unexplored frontier, the results from brands that have implemented this technology cannot be ignored. As the apparel industry enters a new digital era, brands that rely on the legacy sizing methods we have in place will find themselves playing catch up to the brands that prioritize sizing strategy first. Don't get left in the digital dust; join the revolution toward sizeless commerce today!

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