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UPcloads technology determines a customer’s measurements by using an image of them holding up a CD.

Technology seeks best fit

Picture this: You click on a new e-commerce site to shop for a shirt, a dress or a pair of shoes. A few days later, your purchases arrive and you try them on. And they fit. No trek to the post office for returns, no cursing the shipping fees. Just perfectly tailored, figure-flattering clothes.

Skeptical? You’ve got reason to be.

“Twenty-seven percent of consumers resist buying fashion online because they’re not convinced it will fit; another 17 percent have bought online but haven’t had a good experience,” NPD Group fashion industry analyst Marshal Cohen says.

This may be changing as online retailers experiment with technology they hope will make you believe – and buy. Several fledgling companies have developed software solutions to help shoppers find their size.

How it works

Berlin-based UPcload’s potential customers stand in front of a webcam holding a CD. With the disk as a reference, the company’s software can understand the size of other objects in the picture and compute the length of an arm, the width of a waist. UPcload’s first U.S. presence will be on the North Face site in October.

The year-old New York-based Clothes Horse, which has partnered with men’s online clothiers Bonobos and Frank & Oak, asks customers to fill out a size and wardrobe data questionnaire, as does five-year-old Boston-based True Fit.

With big-box retail websites Macys.com and Nordstrom.com testing its technology, True Fit is enjoying an edge. The company started with the concept that everyone knows what items in their closet fit them best and developed an algorithm to connect brand information (it has access to size specs for several hundred brands) with customer input. Using the free program requires customers to fill in an online profile with their age, height, weight, gender and body type and preferred labels, types of clothing and sizes now in their closet. The algorithm overlays the data of the customer profile, sizes and brand preferences with the specs of the clothing under consideration and recommends the best size.

Like Pandora and Amazon, chief executive Bill Adler says, once it gets to know you, its recommendations get better. Along with size suggestions, True Fit gives customers sizing scores, ranging from 1 to 5; 1 is unwearable, 5 perfect.

Satisfied customers?

Guillaume Orain, 23, who works at a New York software start-up, has suffered several sizing mishaps while shopping online. On a friend’s suggestion, he tried Frank & Oak, which uses Clothes Horse technology. He liked that the site used his favorite J. Crew label for comparison and he ordered a $40 shirt. When the shirt arrived, “it was right,” he said.

Booze Allen consultant Blair Winston, 24, prefers brick-and-mortar shopping. “I’ve bought unfamiliar brands online before because I thought I was getting a good deal, but often they fit strangely. I’m comfortable buying a Nanette Lepore suit on the Web because the sizes are consistent. I won’t buy jeans, though. You have to try them on.”

Madison Riley, managing director of retail consulting firm Kurt Salmon, is in a watch-and-wait mode. “If a retailer knows your sizes, it will do a lot to lock that consumer loyalty into a retail brand, but we’re not there yet,” Riley said. “Lots of people are interested in testing. We’ll see where they go.”

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