Invasion of the Bodyscanners in Retail

In part 2 of our interview with Colin Hunter, CEO and co-founder of technology-driven custom tailor, Alton Lane, Colin discusses the how bodyscan is going to change retail — where it could revolutionize the in-store experience (and, perhaps, home-shopping as well) and where it will be nothing more than an expensive, in-store novelty. He also talks about how to make in-store robotics work, and what parts of the customer experience still require that human touch.

David Zweifler, Gordon Magazine (DZ): Thanks for joining us again, Colin. You’ve just expanded into custom shoes. Are you leveraging bodyscan for that as well?

Colin Hunter, Alton Lane (CH): We aren’t using bodyscan for that today. This is a conversation we have a lot. Custom, for us, is putting the customer at the center of everything that we do. And so we never want custom in and of itself to be an idol. We want the customer to be at the center and most of the time we go the custom route because why wouldn’t you want something that fits you perfectly? And that’s ultra-personalized. Especially if it can be convenient and it can be reasonable from a cost point of view.

“We look to other brands and other industries that are focused on experience with our target customer, and we realize that there’s a lot that we have to learn. I’ll just take a notebook to those places and write things down and try to figure out how to incorporate elements of that so that we can make our spaces and our experiences even more comfortable and wonderful for our customers.”

Extreme Custom Not Critical For Footwear

CH: On the shoe-front, we found that there wasn’t a huge demand for shoes that were eight and five-eighths or 10 and three quarters instead of 10 and a half. It was more important that you could get your exact kind of length and width. I think width was a huge factor. I think personalization became really important also.

Take someone like my father, he’s a triple E, – a very, very wide foot. There are only two brands that he’s found in his professional career that where the shoes actually fit them and are comfortable until he tried on until we were able to make a shoe for him in his size and the exact style that he wanted that fit his width. I think for a decent number of our customers and if you’re a size 10 normal width shoe, our size 10 normal width is going to fit you exactly the way that you’ve wanted them to fit. Now you can have fun with tweaking elements of the shoe and we hand-painted bottoms or certain types of stitching or things like this. There are some of our customers that we choose that really love the custom fit element and there are other customers that love the personalization and the quality for the price point that we’re able to offer.

DZ: I saw the Digiday interview that you did about a year ago where the takeaway was that bodyscan wasn’t ready for widespread distribution within brick-and-mortar retail and the broader retail segment. Obviously you guys are using it very effectively and there have been some high profile failures. I think Bloomingdale’s tried it and ended up taking them out.

CH: Victoria’s secret, also.

Bodyscan and New Technology Mistakes

DZ: Yeah. Why do you think the adoption has been low and that it hasn’t worked out everywhere? And, and are there any changes that have taken place in bodycscan that might make this a more widespread piece of retail technology?

CH: I think there are two mistakes that brands make. One mistake is that brands think, okay… well, bodyscan is cool. Let’s put a 3d body scanner in a brick-and-mortar location. But how are you actually gonna use it? There’s an execution mistake that, unless you were making something custom. You can take a 3D bodyscan and then it should be able to tell you what size, what size would fit you best. And if you’ve done the legwork for that data, okay, then there could be a use case there in department stores – a Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom type place, but the execution has to be right and you really have to, you have to invest in it. Brooks Brothers was very early on in putting bodyscans in, in some of their stores, but they just didn’t invest in it. The customer feels them, the team feels that. So I think that’s, that’s one mistake.

I think the other mistake is on the custom side where people say, well, let’s just, let’s make bodyscan the central piece and let’s just produce directly from the factory with the bodyscan measurements. And it misses that key element of what you actually want — your personal preference. And again, expanding the earlier example I gave, you could take 10 customers for the exact same body and put them in the bodyscan and you get the exact result. But it’s one of those guys is from New York and one is from London and one is from Alabama and one’s from Virginia. Their concept of what they feel comfortable wearing is going to be totally different.

And the same suit that you put on all of them, one might say, oh, this fits perfectly. The other will say this is way too tight. And someone else might say, this is way too loose. We saw that very early on. I think what’s super important is that you’re making it part of the process and not just a process in and of itself. I think that the most likely success case on a mass level is where it’s in the mall or it’s in big department stores and it’s is so centralized that this becomes part of the experience. You go in and then you get on your app, you get every brand, you can choose any brand and they would show you your ideal size, based on that. But the key piece that it still misses is preference. And, again, even with off-the-rack, you could take two women with the same body shape and the same dress. One might say this is perfect. One might say this is too loose, one might say it’s too tight.

The Importance of Being Human

“Some big brands still have a long way to go to catch up. They’re trying to figure this out, but it’s, it comes down. It’s not just the people. I mean the people are critical to it, but it’s store design. It’s furniture and lighting and music and all these elements. If I had retail lighting in my home, and the Rent soundtrack playing on repeat for six hours, I’d probably go crazy.”

DZ: So, it sounds like you’re saying that even with highly customized products like a suit there still needs to be a human intermediary until artificial intelligence gets much, much more sophisticated than it is now, to compensate for personal preference and style.

CH: Exactly.

DZ: Okay. Well, that’s good cause I’m a huge fan of humans. I like to think that they’re important in the process. So let’s get to that human element. Obviously bodyscan is, for most people more pleasant and convenient than a 15- or 20-minute measurement-taking process. What else is going on at the store location? Are you emphasizing it? I would guess that you’re not just emphasizing speed and convenience given the fact that this is a luxury item.

Experience Trumps Convenience

CH: Oh, of course. I think experience is central to our identity. I think in fact it’s even more central than speed and convenience. To me, that helps support and experience, but it’s not the only element of experience. We have customers that want to come in and spend 20 minutes and for them getting a great experience is honoring that. We have customers that want to come into the physical retail location and spend that want to spend an hour or an hour and a half or two hours and we want to do the same for them. And so I think for us it is we want people to actually, in most men hate to shop. We want to change it where people actually enjoy coming to Alton Late. And so it’s really important we can teach people how they use the body scanner.

We can teach people how to take some hand measurements. We want our team members to be experienced guides. That really comes down to being a good host or hostess that you are. You’re welcoming people in. If they want a drink, you’re giving them a drink, you’re engaging with them, you’re finding out about their life. And this is not new. I mean, this is a human story. This is how business used to be. I mean, we used to be ubiquitous that this would, this is the case and we’ve just gotten away from that in this commoditized global economy. So I think for us, let’s be speedy and efficient where we need to be, but let’s give people an amazing experience. I mean, in some of our stores have secret rooms with didn’t poker tables and TV screens. You can watch Thursday night football while you order shirts. Other stores have pool tables or ping pong. You can play a game, a pool with buddies for as you get outfitted for a wedding. I think that there’s just a lot of opportunities that we have to enhance someone’s experience and to make it really great.

Good Retail Is Coming From Newcomers

DZ: It’s funny because I’ve spoken to a few people so far. I kind of went into this thinking that I was going to be speaking to a lot of people who ran boutiques, who provided old-school, old-world service, understood the timeworn lessons of hospitality and good retail. And interestingly, a lot of the people who I speak to who seem to be doing it best come from the online or the consulting world who are fairly new. They come to it with like, we’re gonna use data and bodyscan to completely revolutionize this business and create efficiencies. And then they get into the business. They’re like, and we’re going to make it not totally suck. And a lot of the good brick-and-mortar retail, really innovative retailers coming from that side of the business. And it, it still kind of catches me off guard. It just shows you the rabbit hole that American retail went down over the last few decades, where it’s like a lost art and it’s being brought back by people who are like consultants and data folk.

“One mistake is that brands think, okay… well, bodyscan is cool. Let’s put a 3d body scanner in a brick-and-mortar location. But how are you actually gonna use it? There’s an execution mistake that, unless you were making something custom. You can take a 3D body scan and then it should be able to tell you what size, what size would fit you best. And if you’ve done the legwork for that data, okay, then there could be a use case there in department stores – a Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom type place, but the execution has to be right and you really have to, you have to invest in it.”

CH: And it’s, and it’s, I think some big brands still have a long way to go to catch up. They’re trying to figure this out, but it’s, it comes down. It’s not just the people. I mean the people are critical to it, but it’s store design. It’s furniture and lighting and music and all these elements. If I had retail lighting in my home, and the Rent soundtrack playing on repeat for six hours, I’d probably go crazy.

You think about how do you make people feel comfortable and then how do you surprise and delight? I spent a lot of time in either nice restaurants or um, high-end hotels. I love learning brick-and-mortar retail from new places that are doing it right, like the Delta Lounge at JFK. We look to other brands and other industries that are focused on experience with our target customer, and we realize that there’s a lot that we have to learn. I’ll just take a notebook to those places and write things down and try to figure out how to incorporate elements of that so that we can make our spaces and our experiences even more comfortable and wonderful for our customers.

This is the second of a two-part interview with Colin. If you missed part one of the interview, you’ll definitely want to check it out. Colin discusses how bodyscan is enhancing the in-store experience in retail with their innovative bodyscan technology which, prior to Alton Lane, most people associated with cavity searches at Laguardia Airport. We also discuss how the robots are putting folks like the person this magazine was named for out of business – not cool, Colin – but how this technology might just be what keeps custom tailoring alive in the 21st Century. Click the link to learn more.

David Zweifler

David is the founder of Gordon Magazine. David's experience spans investment banking, journalism, marketing and technology.

David Zweifler