December 26, 2000, 9:55 AM

Lands` end online; body imaging and beyond

Known for using innovative web technology not only to gain
interest in online shopping but also to make shopping easier, Lands-End.com is on the cusp of a new trend in using body images to sell clothes. While the site has had a virtual model for the past year (My Personal Model) that lets women pick a body type, the retailer is going one step further.

In October, Lands’ End adopted fitting technology by ImageTwin, a firm that does three-dimensional body scanning. The technology allows consumers to build a virtual model based on their exact physical characteristics. Lands’ End took the ImageTwin technology on a 14-city tour from October through December. Shoppers don close-fitting spandex body suits, then their bodies are scanned with a white light that records 200,000 data points. Those data points are translated into a 3D image and recorded for use on the web site, where the image is accessible to the shopper. The images are wirelessly transmitted from the scanning truck and stored as a 100- or 200-kilobyte file on a secure IBM server, says C. Cammack Morton, chairman of ImageTwin.

While ImageTwin has worked with offline retailers, such as the Levi’s jeans flagship store in San Francisco, Lands’ End is the first to use the scanning for online shopping. ImageTwin plans to roll out the technology in 2001, eventually placing scanning booths in malls or other retail locations. The scanning booth costs $45,000, down from more than $200,000 only two years ago. Lands’ End works on a contract basis to lease the truck with the scanner and the software.

Although the companies tout the technology as a solution to such online shopping problems as finding the right fit and filling the consumer’s need to “try on” before buying, Barrett Ladd, senior retail analyst at Gomez Advisors, says the jury is still out on whether customers will use it. She believes it will be hard for consumers to accept the image that is created. “It’s going to be a challenge to get over that,” she says. “I don’t think people want to be analyzed that much.”

Nevertheless, Lands’ End views the 3-D image as another customer service enhancement. “This is going to become standard in the future of apparel shopping,” says Terry Nelson, e-commerce marketing manager. “The body scanning will allow manufacturers to fit clothes better and will provide a tremendous customer service to online shoppers.” Lands’ End says it does not employ technology for technology’s sake and Nelson adds: “This is really giving our customers a glimpse of what’s to come.”

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