Lately, it seems like everyone is talking about virtual reality.
While virtual reality is both terrifying and oddly fascinating, I truly believe that everyday integration is in our future. As someone who works within the lingerie industry, one interesting topic for me is the use of virtual reality in bra fitting. Who wouldn't want to be fitted for a bra in the comfort of her home with a virtual expert and an endless selection of bra options?
While I believe we have a way to go before it becomes a reality, its integration has the potential of hurting businesses, both big and small who don't have a strong online presence. Whether we're ready for virtual reality or not, it's coming. As we embrace the digital age, more and more brick and mortar retailers are going out of business and becoming obsolete, while online sales are skyrocketing.
Additionally, the brick and mortar retailers that have an online presence are coming out on top. These business owners are keenly aware of the importance of an online presence- they know that women are searching for bra stores near them and they're driving business to their doors. Those are the businesses that will continue to succeed and thrive in the next few years as we experience a huge shift in searching and shopping preferences.
Is virtual reality a threat to lingerie stores?
As a strong supporter of small businesses, the idea of virtual reality replacing bra fitting concerned me at first.
Once I delved into it a bit further, I became less and less concerned.
Here's why: most machines would use a human-created algorithm based on inputed data in order to calculate bra sizes. Those machines can't measure a woman's breast tissue depth and shape...yet. Thus, machines could never replace bra fitting professionals because bra fitting is an art, not an exact science. It's not uncommon for a woman to have breasts that are two different sizes or shapes. In order to get an accurate measurement, the machines would need to do a 360 degree scan of the upper body. Without 3D scanning, how could an algorithm anticipate a difference in cup size, shape, or volume? It can't. An accurate fit goes beyond a questionaire or algorithm.
It's also important to ask: How would someone determine the "right bra size" if they're being fit by a computer? With an algorithm, the customer's measurements are completely subjective in that case, based upon what the customer is willing to provide. If they're trying bras on at home, if they've never been professionally fit by a professional, or if they're not reporting accurate measurements, how would the algorithm know what the "right bra size" is or what it looks like?
Who will come out on top?
Virtual reality will be useful in many industries, but professional bra fitters still have the advantage. Bra fitting experts are able to fit women in real time and use a wealth of experience and product knowledge to make sure their customers are wearing the right bras. They don't need to send a women home with different sizes and tell her to send back the ones that don't fit. They have all of the products they need in store to send her home with bras today. Fitting experts know if a particular colorway runs smaller or if a certain style fits larger in the cup. They're accutely aware of the grading variances that exist between brands and even styles within brands. Thus, they can quickly tell a customer that she might be one size in a particular style or brand and a different size in another and immediately help her find the size she needs.
Furthermore, a bra fitting algorithm would not only require measurements of women it "fit", but also expensive knowledge on the brands and styles it recommends, down to the bra's exact measurements (which can vary and won't be accurate if the brand is selling old stock that is different from new re-graded styles, for example) which brands may not be able to or willing to provide. As it stands, many lingerie brands don't have the time or resources to go through every run of every style and color and check for fit differences. In most cases, they don't need to. Bra fitting experts obtain this knowledge through fitting the brand on their customers and are able to adjust for any fit differences by recommending other sizes, styles, or brands for the best fit.
While these algorithms can get pretty darn close to an accurate bra size, nothing can replace an actual human being with years of experience, knowledge, and flexibility.