Iliked a pair of shoes that I saw in a shop the other day, but they didn’t have my size. They said I could wait and try my luck a week or two later, or visit the other shops where they stock that brand. A month down, they still haven’t got my size. I thought I should perhaps try the online store, but I have never bought a pair of shoes on the Internet.
I regularly buy books online, and often have household gadgets and accessories shipped to friends and family abroad so they can bring them over during Christmas, but I have never bought clothes or shoes from an online store. My worry is, what if they don’t fit? If you live abroad, you can always send your purchases back and get an exchange. But here, in India, you’ll be saddled with an ill-fitting pair and a deep hole in your pocket. I feel it’s safer to buy from a shop where you can try the items on for comfort and fit—unless you are very sure of the size and other details.
But things are changing. If you were to shop at the online store of London’s high-end Hawes and Curtis (www.hawesandcurtis.com), you now have the option of “trying out” a shirt in their “virtual fitting room” so that you get a fairly good idea of how it fits. They are using a relatively new technology called “virtual fitting room for online clothing retailers”. Developed by Fits.me, an Estonian company, the technology allows online shoppers “to see clothes on a robotic mannequin with the exact dimensions of the buyer’s body”. But you have to be fairly accurate in the measurements—height, chest, arm length, and so on—you provide.
While the male FitBot has been available since the middle of last year, Fits.me has now launched the female version of the bot. On the Fits.me website, they say, “Due to the various shapes and sizes of the female body, the female FitBot robot was more complicated to accurately model than the male torso and took longer to perfect.” According to them, their female FitBot mannequin “can adjust to just about any female body type”. Watch their videos on how the mannequin morphs into various shapes and sizes (www.youtube.com/watch?v=O-1PFqQ6Yso and www.youtube.com/watch?v=tgDh3djntSY); they’re quite fascinating. CNBC has chosen Fits.me virtual fitting room as one of the Top 20 breakout brands for 2011. The company lists only three clothing brands that have installed “virtual fitting room” tools on their online shops; I am waiting for my kind of brands that have now begun to ship to India to sign up for the service.
Close fit: Online shoe shopping is different from buying clothes on the Net.
However, what I am seriously tempted to buy online is a pair of spectacles from Warby Parker. I’ve been looking for an old-fashioned round frame, but I can’t find it in the local shops for love or for money. “Yeh to bahut saal purana fashion tha (this used to be in fashion years ago),” they tell me, and throw in an “uncle-ji”. Warby Parker has the round frame I am looking for, but they ship only to the US and Canada.
And what’s great is that they use a facial recognition technology called “virtual try-on” on their website where you can actually check how the frame will look on you (www.warbyparker.com/Home-Try-On). You choose a frame, upload your photo (or have one taken using a webcam), adjust the position of the glasses on your photo, i.e., shrink or expand the size, and then decide. You can’t go wrong because you can see the frame on your face. I’ve played around with it, and I think the technology works.
There’s another reason I would like to buy from Warby Parker (the founders of the company say the name has been inspired by two Jack Kerouac characters, Zagg Parker and Warby Pepper): For every pair of glasses sold, they “provide one to someone in need”, and they say they have donated more than 50,000 pairs so far. I like their spirit.
But buying shoes online is a different story. It’s not like buying clothes or spectacles. You need a close fit: a bit loose, and your foot will slip out; and if it’s a tight fit, only the wearer of the shoe knows where it pinches, as they say. I’m looking forward to the day when they’ll have FitBots for shoes. I’m sure it will happen, though I can’t imagine how it will work.
Shekhar Bhatia is a former editor, Hindustan Times, a science buff and a geek at heart.
Write to Shekhar at the email@example.com