AContemporary Future

Are we ready for more cutting-edge technology?

Iloved watching reruns of “The Jetsons” when I was younger. I was fascinated by the TV show’s projection of contemporary American culture in a progressive, high-tech future. Although we’re hardly commuting to work in disc-shaped flying vehicles, the steps we’ve taken in the past few years are only predictive of what’s still to come.

Companies are already discussing how to send automatic coupons via cell phones to those who pass their store, in hopes of enticing them with steep discounts for impulse purchases. And some of us already avoid long lines at the movies or deli thanks to downloaded orders.

More technology is coming, but the question is, are we willing to fit it into our routines?

For a few years now, virtual fitting-room company Intellifit, Horsham, Pa., has dabbled in the physical retail world to help shoppers find the perfect clothing fit. The company tested the waters in stores such as After Hours, Levi’s Stores and Fashion Bug. Each chain installed the 50-sq.-ft. Intellifit unit into its floor space.

To use the virtual fitting room, a shopper steps into the cylindrical unit and holographic imaging technology performs a 360-degree body scan in less than 10 seconds. The subject then receives a free confidential computer printout listing the brands and sizes that fit him or her best.

When newspapers, magazines and TV shows got wind of the concept, they predicted the technology would forever change the way we shop.

Sure, the idea of avoiding the trial-and-error experience of a fitting room is intriguing, especially for a never-can-get-the-right-size shopper like me. But is this type of technology too premature for our daily regimen? It may be.

While chatting with a manager of an After Hours store in Atlanta, for example, he told me that the permanent unit installed two years ago remains unused in the back of the store.

“It’s really exciting for customers, but most of the time we have to resize the person so they can have the most accurate measurements,” he said. “So we’ve essentially eliminated it from the process. We were using it at first, but we realized it wasn’t really a great use of our time.”

However, another manager said the unit is indeed effective for both customers and employees at the Levi’s Store in Dallas.

“We learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t work,” said Rob Weber, Intellifit president. “It’s hard to say overall if it was a success, but it’s important to move on and learn from it.”

At the eTail conference in Palm Desert, Calif., in February, an Intellifit representative said the company now plans to install the technology in airports nationwide. The first locale will be the Philadelphia International Airport.

“We’re moving into airports to support the sale of online apparel,” Weber said.

“An airport might have 10 million to 20 million people passing through it each year, while a retail store may get thousands of visitors,” he added. “Therefore, each unit is exposed to a far greater audience.”

With technology booming in both the physical and e-commerce world, in-store virtual fitting rooms may eventually find a place in the retail space. But while these ideas are working themselves out in test markets and getting used to their new exposure, so are we.

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