A love for technology led Mahendra Vellingiri and Sivasubramaniyem to start the revolutionary concept of a 3D virtual trial room
I stand upright on an elevated platform and look straight into the camera on an iPad. The podium rotates 360° and, in the next few seconds, a special sensor attached to the iPad captures my image.
A 360° view of the body image is the first step in a 3D virtual trial, say Mahendra Vellingiri and KR Sivasubramaniyem, co-founders of Coitor, a Coimbatore-based start-up that works in the virtual trial room space. “Our team takes over the image. And the software ensures that the measurements are accurate,” explains Sivasubramaniyem. A unique ID is generated with the measurements and shared with the user on WhatsApp or email.
One can use this ID for a virtual trial while shopping online. Vellingiri says, “We recommend best-fit products and brands, based on their body shape and size. Currently, they can access it on Trailcorner.com. There are plans to integrate with e-com players like Amazon and Flipkart, and international websites. Right now, the trials are available only for men’s wear.”
The team had a soft launch in Coimbatore recently. “We set up a kiosk at Fun Mall to collect data. We got 80 users a day. In the next three months, we will be taking it to malls in Chennai, Bengaluru and other cities,” explains Vellingiri.
A virtual trial room helps bring down rate of returns and cart abandonment (which is about 60% now) in the online shopping realm. Vellingiri says, “Nick Robertson, the Chief Executive of ASOS online store, had said that a 1% fall in returns would immediately add £10 million ($16 million) to the company’s bottom line. Another study says that over 85% of people who shop online for clothes will buy if they are sure about the fit. In Bengaluru, Jealous 21 did a trial run with the virtual trial room and found a 20% increase in sales conversions,” he says. The Coitor team will soon patent the ‘3D Omni channel virtual fitting/ trial room’ process.
Technology to the fore
Vellingiri and Sivasubramaniyem see huge potential in technology. The childhood friends graduated with degrees in engineering, and later went to Australia for their Masters. While Vellingiri worked in a start-up in Australia, Sivasubramaniyem became a business analyst in Chennai. “Technology excites us,” says Vellingiri. “We got the brainwave to use mobile towers to charge the phone battery over a casual meeting at a paani puri stall near VOC Park. We published the study in IEEE Forum and presented a paper in the US.”
Both are first-generation engineers in their families. Vellingiri, who comes from a textile background, says, “The idea of a virtual trial came up when I visited my dad’s outlet during Deepavali. Because of the rush, shoppers queued up for trials. So much time was wasted. I wanted to do away with it.” First, they tried a 2D virtual trial room at stores. They installed a big TV screen that worked on the concept of augmented reality. Whenever a customer appeared in front of the screen, a sensor studied the body shape and then the person tried on clothes virtually. They have done over a dozen installations in Mumbai, Delhi, Pune, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, and Chennai. The screens have had over one lakh trials. Based on feedback from retailers, they also turned to the online space and built the software for the 3D virtual trial room. “When we did our research, we learnt that most virtual trials happen over a 3D model generated on one’s body size. Our solution allows customers to try clothes directly on to their image,” explains Vellingiri.
Coitor is an incubation company at PSG-STEP, a facility that supports start-ups. It has raised funding from angel investors like Bijou Kurien, ex-CEO, Reliance Retail and ex-COO of Titan, and Selvakumar, ex-president of TiE Coimbatore chapter. “We met Kurien at a conference in Mumbai. He saw the potential when we made a presentation to him.” The team is looking at funding to scale up the project and to include trials for women’s wear.
There is still a long way to go, they say. “There are companies like Fitle and Metail in this space. But, they use 3D animated figures or 3D models. There is also Fits Me, which has now been acquired by Rakuten, a Japanese e-com company. They bank upon measurement tools to tackle the problem of returns. In India, there is Trupik that uses 3D animated mannequins in virtual trials. We want to make a difference with our unique solution.”