Virtual me

A few years ago I met with a company that was in start up phase, with a cool vision: they were developing body scanning software (not new) BUT – and this is the cool part – they were taking it a step further by planning on installing kiosks in malls which were tied to the apparel inventory in the store at that mall.

So you could be scanned, tell it you were looking for a red dress, and it would give you the list of options: “At Macy’s Liz Claiborne has a red dress in your size. At Bloomingdale’s, Tahari”.

Note: as any women can tell you, sizing is a “rough estimate” not an absolute – so you can be one size with one brand, and a different one with another. The body scanning software eliminated this fuzziness – it correlated your actual measurements with individual brand measurements and then checked inventory there to ensure you didn’t have to waste a lot of time searching and trying on things that didn’t fit. It would send you to the right place/brand/size without all the hassle.

Aside from the fact that some don’t find shopping a hassle and it’s a very utilitarian approach to searching and finding, this is clearly genius. But I’d like to see it taken a few steps further.

The body scanning /real time inventory integration should be combined with avatars and virtual world technology. Not in Second Life, although that can be a real hoot (hey, I know, I’m a geek) – but the ability to scan, build an avatar that actually does resemble you (not the idealized 20 year ago in my wildest fantasy version), with correct dimensions, and then – and this is the next steps – have it try on apparel that actually is based on real manufacturers styles and sizes. You could *immediately* actually see if that dress fits, how it looks in 3D, and whether it’s flattering.

This would be a huge cost reduction for what is a practice barely improved since the advent of the Sears catalog back in 1888. Currently catalog or Internet sales are a fuzzy science – a teeny picture (maybe, a shot from the back too), that’s no where close to your size/body shape. I don’t even bother, but when I have, I order two sizes and return the one that doesn’t fit – or return them both in disgust.

These returns cost both the retailers and the manufacturers a huge amount of money and hassle. It keeps inventory management a guessing game for the manufacturers, who have to take back inventory that doesn’t sell in the retail channel and also share – if not own – any sales price reductions that the retailers implement. So, if something comes back, it either goes to the sales rack or gets returned to the manufacturer. For the retailers it’s more about hassle and the costs associated with logistics.  

With body scanned avatars – and accurate sizing reflected in a virtual garment – the number of returns would be greatly reduced, because you would *know* it fit, and that it looked good. It’s such a win-win-win solution for everyone involved (consumer, retailer, manufacturer) that I don’t understand why I’ve not seen any movement towards developing this.

I’m not sure I really want to see what I look like in 3D, which I’m sure is a concern for many (I like my delusions as much as anyone….). But the amount of hassle and guessing it would eliminate would be a powerful incentive to try it.

And then when customized apparel manufacturing starts to go mainstream – it will be a necessity. Straight from scan to cutting table, so to speak, even if a laser is doing the cutting. But this disintermediates the retailers to a large extent, so has less incentive to be implemented.

I’m disappointed that in truth, I’ve been thinking about this for at least 5-6 years and as yet, it seems the industry is sticking with the old.

The good news is that my delusions are for now, still safe.

Pugnacious twats: Anger issues in an interactive world

I’ve had a few unsavory run-ins (and yes, that’s the right word) with people on other people’s Facebook discussions lately. You know, the kind when you’re innocuously commenting on someone’s post and then “bam!” someone who feels the need to aggressively disagree shows up. The kind of interaction that frankly just leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

Typically these run-ins are followed by a private message from the original poster, who’s connected to both of you (and is now in the middle) explaining that while this person is indeed resembling nothing more than a total argumentative a-hole on Facebook, in person they’re wonderful and kind while butterflies and rainbows just stream forth from every orifice of their bodies (ok maybe I exaggerate a bit there…).

Why am I mentioning all this on a blog dedicated to technology you ask? Well it’s also a blog about how people interact with technology, and I am interested in the barriers that technology is lowering – and in this case, it’s interesting to me that all those social norms that exist between real interactions seemingly have little hold once the interaction is through a screen. Why it’s acceptable to be an absolute aggressive jerk to a complete stranger – even though there’s a mutual connection in between.

I know there are the subjects that your mother always taught should be avoided in polite company: I believe it was politics, sex and religion – so Facebook conversations definitely fail on that rule. We’re discussing (arguing about?) subjects that typically you would have never have had with strangers, and probably not with friends either.

But at the same time, there’s not a lot of discussion happening. It seems that somehow it’s become even more important to “put your stake in the ground” about your beliefs/opinions, and then defend them vehemently, as opposed to listening.

Which is where I have an issue with the people who tend towards the “pugnacious”. All this anger they clearly have now has an outlet, where they can exhibit it with complete anonymity or fear of retribution. I (or anyone) have been depersonalized. The barriers to civility are eliminated, allowing for basic personality flaws to be magnified.

And I think that inevitably this elimination of social behavioral norms will spill over into real life: once you’ve gotten used to being able to be aggressive virtually, it’s easier to be it in person.

So while I love technology and how it’s changing our lives, I fear for something that seems to be disappearing: basic courtesy.

Where are you, Dick Tracy? The future form of mobile gadgets

It’s no secret I’ve always wanted a watch phone. Not the least reason being, I’m constantly losing the “phone” (information aggregation device, or “IAD” as I like to call it, when in a particularly geeky mood. Not, of course, to confuse with Dulles airport’s code) that I do I have – attempts at making it easier to find with bright covers and rhinestones nonetheless.

It makes such sense, really, that this precious device which increasingly is our connection to the world, holds our personal data, pictures (memories), entertainment, emails, etc etc should somehow be attached. When this precious device is our payment medium as well (which is coming), it’s just common sense that we won’t want to misplace it, or have it easily stolen while it lies on the restaurant table.

Siemens always seems to be on the cutting edge of product design…I watched with fascination back in 2003 when they introduced the “Xelibri” line of mobile phones when I was living in London, which they launched through Selfridges (a fashion store, not a “phone” store – interesting and intentional category statement there). Personal communication jewelry, necklaces, mostly, from what I saw; not particularly attractive, and definitely too early for the technology to really support the concept; it flopped horribly, but they were on to something. Just, way too early.

So why haven’t these really taken off yet? Well – cost is one factor. Interface, another.  Battery life – all these things. But with ear pieces, talking is solved; with increasing miniaturization, and private transactions going mobile, it’s inevitable.

Perhaps, in line with a phone not being a “phone” anymore but a new sort of device, we should come up with a new category of what this will be: not a watch, or a bracelet, or even a phone; I’ll try to come up with some brand spanking new term….in the interim, I’ll just keep thinking of it as a watch phone. And I want one.

“Augmented reality” (well, sort of): How not to use techology in advertising

Got this email from Boucheron today (very high end fine jewelry, for those of you not familiar with them), titled “Enjoy a unique experience with augmented reality‏“.

It sends you to the website, where you can “try on” the jewelry using your web cam and a paper ring or watch you download, print out, cut out and then “wear”. When you hold your arm up to the web cam field of view, it superimposes the jewelry on the screen so you appear to be wearing it.

It’s klutzy (how many steps does it take again??), and an incorrect usage of the term “augmented reality”, but at least they are trying to be creative about how to make a user experience where a consumer can actually interact with their products (OK, that’s me attempting to be positive).

I know first hand that jewelry is a tough sell (I also own a jewelry brand); it’s an emotional product, and very difficult to sell without actually being able to try on the product. I’m guessing this is where their impetus to create a way to “try on” the jewelry is coming from.

But to be honest, it strikes me as very “web 1.0”. I mean, print out paper template, find scissors, cut out template, find tape (lordy I’m bored already), have working web cam…you get my point. My guess is that this won’t actually be a very useful tool for selling Boucheron (and we’re talking EXPENSIVE!) jewelry here.

It’s really just a sad, half step towards appropriating some of that wonderful virtual world technology…how come it hasn’t taken off in more commercial applications yet?

But the saddest part is, they undoubtedly spent a lot of money making this work, and when it is unsuccessful (if they’ve defined “success” at all) they will blame the medium and probably say to themselves “See? I told you the internet isn’t the right way to sell high end jewelry.

I applaud their willingness / effort – really I do. But am wondering why they decided to spend this much money on a microsite/app (a destination one at that, meaning you have to go the website to use it) for a product that by sheer price point, let alone category, is a highly niched product. You’re shooting a very wide range of bullets in the hope that one of them will hit something, so to speak. Can’t help but thinking there would have been a more targeted, effective way to spend that money.

It’s not about the technology, it’s about people

Here’s a great presentation ( which got me musing on one of my favorite mental riffs: how it’s not about the technology, it’s about understanding human behavior. Which has always been my position. Here’s why. 

There are a gazillion different start ups, technologies, widgets, gadgets, etc etc – far too many to be able to follow on an individual basis. But if you understand people, their needs, desires, and how they interact – in other words, psychology – then technology just becomes the tool that enables that behavior. And that’s how the smart brands approach deciding how to leverage what’s out there.

I’ve had my fill of clients insisting “WE NEED TWITTER!”. Umm, why? Your core market is 55 year old male business travelers staying mid week at your hotel, do you really think they care enough about your brand and the relationship with it to want to hear from you / interact with you on a daily basis?

And inevitably the client then points to Apple as a brand they want to emulate.”But Apple has 100 millions fans! We want at least 50 million too”. Really? Do your customers exhibit any of the rabid fandom of the Apple brand? If not, Twitter won’t convince them. And if they have a really utilitarian relationship with you (as they might, say, if you were a budget hotel that they occasionally stay with when in a podunk town), then maybe, just maybe, they won’t be interested in “being your friend” on Facebook either.

Bottom line: decide what you want to achieve from a business point of view (e.g. attract a new customer segment, retain the ones we have) and THEN decide which of the tools and technologies that are out there are best suited to enhance that objective.