Bloomingdale's Tries Again To Fix The Women's Sizing Problem

Bloomingdale's (NYSE:M) is once again piloting a body-scanning system in an effort to solve a perpetual problem for women's apparel retailers: customers who can't find items in their size, even if the store has them.

This time the scanning system is from Me-Ality, and it's being installed in two New York City-area Bloomingdale's stores, two near Los Angeles and one in suburban Washington, D.C. Customers are scanned fully clothed for 10 seconds to pinpoint 200,000 body data points, after which the system churns out the best-fitting sizes and styles among the denim brands that Bloomingdale's carries.

This has been tried before, and the problems that bedevil any 3-D scanning technology have kept it from being successful in the past: The human body is hard to scan accurately, especially through clothing. But retailers remain hopeful, and with good motivation: Women's sizing is such a mess that customers literally have to try on everything to find anything that fits.

That means there's no such thing as a size-6 customer—unless that customer magically morphs to squeeze into whatever "size 6" happens to mean for a particular brand, and sometimes it isn't even consistent between styles for a single brand.

That's a problem for customers, but it's an even bigger challenge for stores. Since customers can't trust sizes; they have to try everything on to see if it fits—which is fine if the customer gets lucky, but leaves associates with a pile of items that require restocking if the customer isn't. Worse still, customers may end up leaving frustrated while items they might have bought are still on the shelf.

Thus the Holy Grail of sizing: a scanner that can actually match the customer with what she can wear. Will this version finally be the one that works perfectly? Maybe not, but if it even comes close to consistently spitting out the right sizes, it could at least reduce the amount of time and frustration customers have to spend not buying clothes.

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