Dublin-based Von Bismark is Powering a New Retail Experience

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By Jeff Marcoux (@jeffmarcoux), CMO Lead, Worldwide Enterprise Marketing, Microsoft 

These days, people can buy just about everything online, but despite huge growth, one segment still has significant problems in e-commerce adoption: clothing. Now Dublin-based retailer Von Bismark is taking advantage of a popular consumer technology to bring online garment sales in fashion to more consumers and cut cart abandonment and returns down to size.

Finding the right fit for a new technology. Throughout the 00’s, consumers began testing the waters on ordering clothing from online sellers or online branches of traditional retailers. Despite impressive growth in topline sales, the business was plagued by high rates of basket abandonments because consumers get nervous that a garment won’t fit them or won’t look good. When they do buy then, they buy extra sizes and colors and send back the ones they don’t need. This is obviously a huge problem for retailers as returns vary from 30-70 percent online in certain categories.

Eoghan O’Sullivan was working in 3D visualization, interface design and image manipulation. He saw a way to give customers a better online experience by putting an innovative device, the Microsoft Kinect for Windows, to a whole new use.

“I thought wow – here is a piece of hardware with a laser scanner in it that can do live motion capture at [a low price point],” said O’Sullivan. Applying his technical knowledge, he developed an application that could provide users with the ability to visualize what clothing would look like in real time on them and greater user control over the online clothing shopping experience.

“We get ‘skeletal’ data from a user, such as shoulder, hip and hand joints,” explained O’Sullivan. “From there we can ‘hang’ our virtual garments off the user, so a top for instance would hang off the shoulders and a skirt would hang off the hips. It also means that users can control the screen through gestures, because we activate buttons on screen when a user waves a hand over them.”

In 2012, O’Sullivan launched Von Bismark, an online retailer that uses this Kinect-based approach to sell fashion, and today the company is about to shake up the way consumers purchase clothing – both online and offline. Von Bismark, a graduate of the Microsoft Ventures Accelerator in London, is pioneering a new physical ecommerce platform to enable apparel retailers to bring their garments into the home and into stores, launching this year.

Virtual mall, real fashions. The Mall on Kinect for Xbox One will be a virtual department store where consumers can shop for all the garments and accessories that they would find at their local retailer, from the convenience of their home. They will be able to search by just asking for something, such as “show me red dresses” to get all the red dresses.

Just like in a real store they can see what garments look like on them through Von Bismark’s virtual wardrobe technology. They can also get scanned to get the right fit and even take a picture of themselves in the garment to share with friends for feedback, in real time. All of this will be done on your living room TV, meaning that customers will convert more and return less – a win/win for customer and retailer.

Sharing shopping success. Finding a solution for online clothing shopping that suits consumers and retailers alike also has benefits to marketers, because shoppers love talking about what they just bought. “To date we have found 1 in 5 users will take a picture and 25 percent of these will share that picture on social media. That is a huge amount of user generated content being posted across social media with the retailers branding on it,” said O’Sullivan.

Customers who share content provide a data trail that marketers can follow with add-on offers, loyalty rewards and other incentives to keep consumers coming back for more.

A bright spring collection. O’Sullivan is optimistic about the prospects for success. “To date we have had almost 500,000 users of our Von Bismark Wardrobe technology in retail environment and shopping centers. When we launch The Mall on Kinect for Xbox One in May 2015, any one of the 12 million users will be able to purchase their favorite brands straight from our app.”

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Jeff Marcoux
CMO Lead, Microsoft
IMA Board Member