In talks with Ed Gribbin, President of AlvanonThursday, 13 September 2012
You launched back in 2001, how has your body scanning service developed over the years and how do you think people’s attitudes have changed to body shape?
Over time we have developed more sophisticated ways to analyse the scan data to create value not only for consumers --- determining which brands fit them best, in what size --- but also for brands and retailers. We interpret the data in three dimensions and help brands create the shapes in their clothing that best align with the real body shapes of their customers. People continue to be curious and excited about the technology and still queue up to get scanned wherever we go. Part of it may be trying something new, but the main motivation is that consumers remain frustrated by the fact that different brands fit differently and, sometimes, they even need different sizes within the same brand. If the technology and innovation that we provide helps to address that frustration, consumers will always be interested.
You are now working with M&S to support their new body fit denim range - Why do you think women have become more demanding with fit and shape when purchasing products?
Part of human nature is that we want to look good and feel good; no industry understands and addresses this phenomenon better than the fashion industry. Women just happen to be, as a rule, more honest and critical when it comes to determining what looks good than men do. Women will scrutinise how clothing fits, front, back and side, in the mirror to make sure they have the right size and shape to flatter them. (Men, on the other hand, are generally happy with a quick look in the mirror -- front view only -- and will say something fits just fine...).
You are currently on a nationwide tour taking your AlvaScan radio wave scanner across key cities, what is the key demographic you are aiming at? How do you expect to be differently received from Glasgow to London?
We are conducting this particular tour in support of the M&S Body Shape Denim launch, so we are not necessarily "aiming" at any particular demographic. As you can imagine, M&S appeals to a very broad range of consumers, and nearly everyone wears denim. So, we expect a very diverse cross-section of British shoppers at the end of the day. We honestly don't know what nuances or differences we will find between shoppers in Scotland, the North, the Midlands, or London, but that will likely make for some very interesting analysis once we complete the tour.
Can you talk me through the process and how the scanner works?
Alvanon scanners are based on the latest radio wave technology called Millimeter wave and are safety certified by the US Federal Communications Commission. The scanner has a "wand" containing 192 antennae that send and receive low power radio signals (the signals have about 1 milliwatt of power; for comparison's sake the radio signals sent from a mobile phone have about 300 milliwatts of power). A person stands in the scanner, fully-clothed, and in the 15 seconds it takes for the wand to scan the individual, we collect about 200,000 data points representing the three-dimensional shape of the person. The radio signals don't recognize clothing but 'reflect' or bounce off the water content in a person's skin. From the data points collected, we then calculate about 100 body measurements, shape and posture characteristics; we categorize the body shape, according to our pre-established standards and then recommend the best fitting product for that person. The whole process takes less than a minute.
What other brands would you ideally like to work with in the future?
Hundreds of retailers and brands around the world are recognising that how a garment ‘fits’ their target consumer populations can have a huge impact on success. How a garment fits is one of the key reasons consumers buy a garment and the number one reason why they go back to a brand in the future or return garments. Retailers and brands who have invested in understanding the body shape characteristics of their target consumer demographic and translated these into the design and manufacture of their garments are being rewarded with increased consumer loyalty, increased full-price sell through and reduced returns. Unfortunately there are still too many fashion suppliers who are working with out of date shape and size data – we live in a diverse multi-ethnicity world where our diets, working environments, exercise habits and indeed the natural aging process to name but a few factors, are constantly changing our shapes and sizes. So my answer to who we would like to work with is any fashion supplier who has not taken into account the ‘real’ shapes and sizes of their customers!
How are you looking to keep moving the service forward over the next few years?
We have been approached by many brands and retailers who want to use a scan tour to get to know their customers better; if they can understand the size and shape needs of their customers, they will be in a much better position to design and produce clothing that meets their customers needs, and builds long-term brand loyalty in the process. On the other hand, we will likely also be working with some large workwear companies and their clients to help determine sizing for thousands of employees who may be going into a new corporate uniform program. Indeed, we are currently in discussion with three global airlines to do this. Lastly, we are always exploring new technologies and innovations that may make it easier to collect data and turn it into practical information that adds value for both the clothing brands and retailers and consumers themselves.