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This post was triggered by an announcement that the Estonian Fits.me, the virtual fitting room has raised a new round of funding of Euro 1.5 million (Allan Martinson of MTVP broke the news on Facebook, Mike Butcher of TechCrunch published the figures, and Heikki Haldre, co-founder and CEO of Fits.me confirmed them).
But what is more importantly, this news has given me an opportunity to talk to Haldre and finally have a lot of my questions answered about how Fits.me actually work.
In a nutshell, Fits.me uses body robots to reproduce any imaginable body shape, photograph how it looks like in a particular garment, and shows customers of online clothing retailers how the item fits them. Sounds simple, but the operational, logistical and commercial questions about Fits.me business model are plenty and Haldre answered them quite extensively in our phone call today, interrupted occasionally by his train diving into a tunnel somewhere in Switzerland.
I buy my clothes online almost exclusively, as the regular store shopping has been a near impossibility for the past three years (small kids). Returns are a commonplace and a hassle but thankfully Zalando is doing good job swiftly processing them.
As Fits.me approach to a virtual fitting room gets adopted, all ill-fitting purchases I recon will become a history. Zalando is not Fits.me customer yet, but as Haldre admits, they receive between 20 and 40 enquiries from online retailers every week, and any name I could think of would be on that list (he cannot disclose more details at this stage).
Fits.me is essentially a software-as-service business, despite having a small army of robots performing garment modeling in Estonia. Now the back-end operation is 15-robots-strong, but astonishingly, according to Haldre, the company needs only 35 robots to model all important clothing brands in the world. Here is why.
Most of the online retailers sell a limited number of clothing brands. So once a garment is measured, it is in a database, and the retailer does not require sending such garment to be measured. In fact, Fits.me robot operators physically come into contact with only 2 percent of the retailers’ merchandise (and this includes all sizes of a particular model).
Logistically, it means that some retailers will have to send samples of its merchandise to Estonia (an average retailer would need to send between 10 and 30 different garments), but, those who specialize in discount sales, would see their range already in a database, come the sales season.
So this is as far as service part is concerned. Now we get to a software part of the business model. Once the garment is tried on by a robot, and over 2000 photos are taken for each item, the data goes into a central database. The retailers which are Fits.me customers will then have a button on their website, allowing their clients enter the virtual fitting room. The clients have to take their honest measurements, and Fits.me will analyze its existing database of 20 000 body types, to check for potential measuring mistakes. Once the hard work is done, the client can “try on clothes” in the virtual fitting room, where she will be shown an image of a chosen item and how it fits her body shape. Recurring fees that retailers pay for using the service is where Fits.me makes money.
I believe they are set to make tons of it as according to one of their customers Hawes & Curtis, the returns are reduced by 35 percent, and more importantly, first time sales are up by 57 percent, and the propensity for a site visitor to make a purchase is 10 times higher, if they are using the virtual fitting room.
If a measuring tape sounds a bit boring, in a future an alternative solution may be 3D body scanners. British company called Bodymetrics offers custom-tailored jeans based on the 3D body scans for a few years now, and has one of its devices installed in Selfridges. Europe’s largest body scanning and anthropometry research company Human Solutions GmbH, is a member of Fits.me research consortium. Alas, “body scanners are not a household appliance at the moment”, says Haldre so the company relies mainly on a tried and tested measuring tape which can be found in any household.
Another reason why I feel Fits.me will become huge, is how we choose our clothes. It is not always down to the size we actually are, but how we like the item to fit. Haldre talked about differences between Bill Gates preferring loose-fitting clothes and Mark Zuckeberg, who goes for a tight fit, and how this reflects the fact that over 50 percent of people buy their clothes a size larger or smaller than the size chart would recommend.
Here are the people who do not only believe in Fits.me success but also put money on the table to make it happen. The current funding round was led by Entrepreneurs Fund, and the company has been previously backed by Estonian Development Fund. So far Fits.me raised Euro 4.1 million.
Amongst Fits.me clients are already big names such as Otto, Barbour by Mail, Ermenegildo Zegna, Thomas Pink so I will just go ahead and file this post under “success stories” section, and will be looking forward to spend hours in Zalando virtual fitting room when it comes online.
Fits.me management has now left Estonia for London, which is a more suitable place closer to the brands and fashion. Unlike many Eastern European startups aiming at Silicon Valley, Haldre and his team choose wisely, as this year Europe has beaten the US as the largest ecommerce market. Estonian division of Fits.me remains its R&D and robot-modeling hub.
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