June 17, 2014, 4:38 PM

An e-retailer turns to video game technology to sell men’s suits

Web-only retailer Combatant Gentlemen develops online and offline technology to help its customers with fit and catch the attention of young professionals using video game technology.

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Online apparel retailer Combatant Gentlemen is taking the technology route to get customers to try on and buy its clothing. But unlike such online retailers as Warby Parker that let customers try on products in a showroom-type store, Combatant Gentlemen’s temporary retail stores, called pop-up events, feature a mirror that uses a camera originally designed for video games to help sell its suits to young professionals.

U.S. consumers, mainly young men, spent $15.4 billion on computer and video games in 2013, according to the Entertainment Software Association, an association for companies that make computer and video games, in a report that includes information from The NPD Group, a consumer research firm. In an attempt to get the attention of the same consumers, Combatant Gentlemen introduced its “magic mirror,” Which its tested out in its headquarters in Los Angeles and at a Las Vegas “hackathon” in October 2013.geared to computer enthusiasts in the fashion industry.

When a shopper tried on a suit and stands in front of the mirror information about the product—price, fabric type, style name and similar items—displays on a TV screen. The mirror’s camera allows a customer to interact with the mirror, much as he would with a motion-sensing video game. He can use arm motions to “swipe” through pages of other products or similar styles and then raise his hand to add the items he is wearing to his shopping cart. The customer can then complete his purchase with an employee at the temporary shop or go home and complete his purchase by signing into his account and viewing his saved shopping cart.

The “magic mirror” uses a two-way mirror, which is partially transparent, a TV screen, and a radio-frequency identification chip reader to scan items of clothing, which all include a RFID chip. It also uses a motion-sensing Microsoft Kinect camera, which was originally designed for use with Xbox, a popular video game console, developed by Microsoft Corp. The retailer designed the mirror using its own employees and development cost about $2,800, according to Combatant Gentlemen chief technology officer Scott Raio.

The retailer, which launched its e-commerce site in 2012, sells corporate attire for young men just out of college and entering the workforce, or for men looking for affordable suits, CEO Vishaal Melwani says. Combatant Gentlemen developed the video game-like mirror in hopes of getting the attention of its target demographic, Melwani says.. “Our goal was initially to use the mirror as a cool way to build our offline approach,” Melwani says.

For checkout at the three pop-up events the retailer put on in 2012 and 2013 and the five currently in the planning stage, Combatant Gentlemen developed technology that allows a salesperson to scan the item in person or use the mirror to add items to the shopping cart. The employee then swipes the customer’s credit or debit card, making checkout similar to the checkout process at an Apple Inc. retail store, Raio says. What’s different is that all of the purchases use the same shopping cart as the brand’s e-commerce site, whether they’re made at a pop-up event or by the consumer going online. By using the same shopping cart, Combatant Gentlemen pulls from one source of inventory, which makes it easier for the retailer to monitor inventory levels. Items are shipped to the customer as if it had been ordered online. The customer walks out of the shop with an e-mailed receipt and can expect his purchase to be shipped the same day

Another tool developed by the retailer is the online “Fit Tech” online fitting system, which uses a customer’s body mass index, or BMI, a measurement of a person’s body using his height and mass, to fit the retailer’s clothing to its online customers. Fit Tech allows consumers to choose their height, weight and size in jeans to calculate BMI and Combatant Gentlemen size with 98% accuracy, says the retailer. Combatant Gentlemen launched Fit Tech in 2012, and it was one of the retailer’s first technology projects.

Combatant Gentlemen knows getting the fit right the first time is crucial to making online shopping work, Melwani says. As a sign it is making progress, the two-year old retailer points to a customer base of more than 300,000 and 2013 web sales of $5 million. Only 4% of 44,000 suits bought have been returned, the retailer says.

The company expects to increase sales at least 200% in 2014 with the addition of more products, Melwani says.

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