3-D Technology May Revolutionize Online Clothes Shopping

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If we have learned anything from "The Jetsons," it's that technology is supposed to make our lives easier. By now cars should fly, machines should select our clothes for us, and everybody should have a sassy robot maid named Rosie to clean their home. Well, we're not there quite yet, but if Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG) get their way, one of those three scenarios may soon be a reality.

Both companies are working on their own versions of 3-D imaging software designed to be used by consumers on their mobile devices, and though the applications are in theory endless, one of its major benefits could be to change the way we shop online for shoes, clothing and accessories.

Last year Americans bought $54.2 billion worth of apparel online, but by some estimates more than 40 percent of those purchases are returned due to improper fit.

If the Shoe Fits, Buy It

Shoetfitr, which is based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is trying to solve this problem for footwear. By partnering with more than 1,000 international brands like Puma, Cole-Haan and K-Swiss, it has built a massive database of 3-D scans of shoe styles. "We have the images of virtually all footwear out there," says CEO Matt Wilkinson. "We provide fittings for every shoe, from athletic shoes to open-toed shoes."

Using the integrated Shoefitr app, consumers can compare a selection spotted online to the best-fitting pair of shoes they already own. This step is crucial because there is a wide variance in fit, even in the same size, from brand to brand.

So for example, if your pair of size 9 K-Swiss Leather Classic's fit you like a glove, the Shoefitr app can tell you that that closest fit to that in the Puma Match Casual sneakers you are looking at is actually size 9.5.

The Whole-Body Approach

But what if a consumer could take a 3-D image of their entire body, in the privacy of their own home, and then use that information to purchase all types of apparel, from shoes to hats, all with the perfect fit? That is where Apple and Google come in to the picture.

Google's Advance Technology and Projects group has been working on outfitting a mobile device with multiple sensors and a powerful software suite that can capture and display 3-D imaging in real time.

Project Tango, as it is known, began as a complementary technology to Google's self-driving cars, enabling them to "see" all objects, both stationary and moving, in order go around them. This information is then used to build instant topographical maps helping the car to avoid obstacles and collisions.

Diminishing Returns

Apple's unnamed project is based upon 3-D technology created by a company called PrimeSense -- which its acquired last year for $345 million – an early Microsoft (MSFT) partner, which was responsible for developing the depth sensing in the Kinect sensors for Xbox games.

Both technologies could be game changers, not only in terms of the way consumer's shop online, but in the cost savings for retailers related to returns. In Shoefitr's case, it is already seeing its app cut retailers' return rates by an average of 20 to 25 percent, which if extrapolated across the $8.6 billion worth of footwear estimated to be purchased online this year, could result in as much as $2.15 billion in savings.

Even George Jetson would be impressed with numbers like that.

The Lund Loop is a free once-weekly curated slice of what I am writing, reading and hearing about in finance, tech, music, pop culture, humor and the good life. But not sports or knitting ... ever!
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