It happens to all of us. We buy clothes for ourselves or as a gift (online or in a store) and when those clothes are put on for the first time, they turn out not to fit. What happens next is the bane of the entire clothing industry and its customers. The return process is laborious, inefficient, and worst of all, very expensive. No matter who you ask -- the clothing manufacturers, the clothing retailers, or every day consumers -- everyone views clothing returns as hateful. And, as if returning clothes to a retailer isn't painful enough, it's even more painful (for all) when an etailer is involved.
According to one source, e-tailing will make up 14 percent of all apparel and accessory purchases in the US in 2016. That figure is expected to grow for the forseeable future. In South Korea, the percentage of apparel and accessory purchases taking place online is a whopping 77 percent of all such purchases. But at least one API provider -- Body Labs -- thinks there might be a better way. In the video below, Body Labs director of business development Flo McDavid can be seen saying (@1:04) that "right now, one-third of the purchases made on-line are being returned." She goes on to say that if "one-third of your customers walk away and they're not happy, that's a problem for your brand and it really really hurts your bottom line."
In the name of great customer satisifaction and service, many of the big e-tailers go out of their way to make returns as frictionless as possible. But there's more to the challenge of returns than just the problem of an item not fitting. Not only is there often a sizing issue (one brand's size 6 is another brand's size 4), there's also the problem where no size fits. The clothing simply isn't made for your body's shape no matter what size you pick. "So it's really hard for an individual to go online and know what to buy" says McDavid in the video. "A big part of that is because the only people who actually know the sizing are the brands. But the brands don't know you and they don't know what you look like. So there's this disconnect between the brands that know their sizing and the individuals that know their bodies. And there's no real language for them to communicate that body data."
In response to that major disconnect, and in hopes of bettering the customer experience while drastically improving the bottom line across the supply chain, Body Labs is hoping that its new Blue API will essentially become that language. Body Labs was founded on the premise that if someone takes a handful of ordinary measurements of their body, the remaining measurements -- ones that you'd need to get a nearly perfect fit for some article of clothing -- are predictable.
Imagine if, in addition to all the other metadata that we're collecting about our bodies, we also had a Body Labs profile -- a 3D model -- that we could transmit to an etailer or even directly to a manufacturer. Or, if we don't have one, we could enter that handful of measurements into an etailer's site and then in turn, that etailer could transmit those numbers to Body Labs via its Blue API where they'd be converted into a more complete measurement 3D model. What happens next is essentially still up for discussion from the apparel industry's point of view. For example, the etailer could present the buyer with only those options that are a near perfect match for the buyer's model. Maybe the etailer offers additional options like "skin-tight" or "baggify-that" and, through the API, the buyer gets a "baggy profile" if s/he prefers baggy clothing.
At some point, our Body Blue models are stored in our phones and we simply transmit them via NFC to a kiosk in retail store and all the hangers with clothing that fits you lights up according to a color that's designated to you. If none of the hangers hanging the blue dresses light up, you press a button on one of the blue hangers and that items shows up at your house the next day. Eventually though, in this world of custom manufacturing, the etailer could become more of a middleman who passes a custom order to the manufacturer and the manufacturer has robots whose source code is the buyer's model. Instead of one-size fits all, one-size fits one. From there, it's not hard to envision a forward thinking etailer like Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos acquiring a blue-jean brand and taking out the middleman.
That gives you one imagination's (this writer's) idea of how disruptive something like Body Labs' Blue API can be. Blue isn't Body Labs' first or only API. The company has been offering what's called the BodyKit Instant API for well over a year. However, whereas that API was more broadly applicable to the so-called quantified-self (it went beyond measurements), Blue focuses exclusively on body dimensions. "Body Labs has actually been doing a bit of re-tooling to their product suite and they're in the process of carving out more focused offerings" a company spokesperson told ProgrammableWeb. "The BodyKit API will be sunsetting soon and Body Labs Blue will be a dedicated suite of tools for the fashion and apparel world, empowering brands to accurately size and measure their customers at scale using the company's AI."
In addition to Body Labs Blue, the company has also released the Body Labs Red API for scanning data automatically into Body Labs' 3D digital body models. According to the company "using the RED API, developers can easily integrate with a series of supported scanners -- whether it's mobile hardware, such as the Microsoft Kinect, or high-end dense surface capture devices such as 3dMD. Red’s APIs also empower developers to seamlessly integrate and import our accurate 3D body models into third-party software to efficiently go from scan to application instantly.