Shop online for a pair of glasses these days, and you’re likely to encounter a virtual try-on feature. It’s the current industry standard. But Mountain View, California, online eyewear retailer Ditto creates a virtual clone—your "ditto," as the company calls it—who will dutifully model as many frames as it takes to find your perfect fit.
"We actually reconstruct your head in 3-D behind the scenes," says Ditto CEO Kate Endress, a Stanford Business School alum who co-founded the company with engineers Sergey Surkov and Dmitry Kornilov. She says more than 22,000 dittos have been created in the last 10 weeks.
Others superimpose images of frames over uploaded static headshots or pictures snapped quickly with shoppers’ computer webcams. It’s fun in a hey-look-there-I-am-with-glasses-superimposed-on-my-face kind of way. And it’s better than buying eyewear online without any kind of try-on, but it doesn’t tell you much about the actual fit of the frames. And even if you get that right, you’ll only know what the glasses look like when you’re looking straight ahead, deer-in-headlights-style. And then there's popular online frames boutique Warby Parker, which actually sends you up to five pairs to try on and photograph on your face, then post to social media to solicit feedback—but you have to actually mail back (free of charge) the frames you don't want.
Ditto’s approach to selling designer eyewear from brands such as Jason Wu, Persol, and 3.1 Phillip Lim also relies on web cam technology. But instead of capturing a single image, it records a short video of your face as you slowly rotate your head side to side and asks you to hold up any credit card-sized card (your driver’s license and your grocery store rewards card will work, for example) for scale. The footage is then used to create a virtual version of you that can be saved and employed over and over again for trying on different glasses. It can be shared on social media networks and with friends and family who may want to vet your next eyewear purchase.
But perhaps more importantly, your ditto can rotate its head 180 degrees while wearing a pair of frames. It's more than a mere gimmick.
"You can see it from every single angle, even angles that you can’t see if you’re looking into a mirror. You can now truly see yourself," Endress says. It’s an experience that’s difficult to achieve, even in real life, without the use of multiple mirrors. That’s because you lose visibility when you look into a mirror and turn your head. By viewing frames on a ditto of yourself, Endress estimates, "You get an extra 45 degrees of visibility on both sides."
Sure, you won’t be able to handle the frames and feel the glasses on your face as you would during a try-on session at a brick-and-mortar optical store. Ditto counters this by offering stylist recommendations based on the dimensions of your face—the 180-degree image enables them to suggest glasses with more precision than would be possible from a static image.
Ditto, which announced $3 million in funding led by August Capital in April and is prepping for the release of its iPad app, isn’t the only online eyewear retailer in the space attempting to offer virtual fitting technology that relies on webcam videos.
The Ray-Ban web site has a feature it calls a virtual mirror, but the execution is clunky, requiring users to steadily hold their heads a certain distance from the computer to work. You can turn your head side to side, but, just like the experience of using a real mirror, you can only glimpse a side view of your face out of the corner of your eye. Lookmatic.com also allows shoppers a 3-D virtual try-on feature, currently in beta mode and powered by French company FittingBox. It requires a software download to work, a barrier many shoppers will be likely to balk at. That’s also the case on SmartBuyGlasses.ie, whose 3-D virtual fitting option is the most cumbersome of the bunch.
Still, the companies building new virtual fitting technology that bolsters consumer confidence in finding the right frames online is a key factor in the growth of the online eyeglasses market, according to IBISWorld research, which predicts revenues to increase 9.6% annually through 2016.
"Fit is a very important factor, and a lot of online retailers realize this," says IBISWorld Industry Analyst Anna Son.
[Image: Flickr user Valerie Everett]