As more and more consumers turn to the web as their primary retail space, the necessity to move away from a simple "buy now" button to a more comprehensive interactive marketplace is growing. Trying things on for size in a virtual world is not a novel concept, but most retailers fall flat on execution. DITTO, a relatively new San Francisco-based company, has taken on this challenge by designing an interactive platform using high-tech facial recognition software which offers consumers an accurate fit for glasses. Skeptical at first, we made our own DITTO, and were really impressed with the accuracy. Drawing from their extensive online inventory, we were able to try on hundreds of pairs of spectacles before finding the perfect match. Curious to learn more, we caught up with DITTO's CEO and co-founder Kate Endress to talk tech, retail and their newly-launched iPad app available in the app store.
Where did the idea for DITTO come from? How is it different from other services in the space?
I am a huge online shopper but eyewear was one category where I just wasn't comfortable buying online for a few reasons. Getting the right fit is so important for glasses, and I'm lazy when it comes to returning things. To combat this, we built technology that let's people create a "DITTO"—our name for a video of their face from their webcam—to virtually try on glasses to see if they actually fit before they buy them. I couldn't find any sites that had a good enough collection of designer products. We are partnered with 30 top designer brands (and counting), including Ray-Ban, Persol, Illesteva, John Varvatos, Anglo American, Alain Mikli and many more, so that you have products you love regardless of your style, face shape or face size. I also didn't like the service policies of existing sites. We decided to take a page from the Zappos and Nordstrom playbook and deliver an incredible customer experience by providing fast and free shipping, free 90-day returns and a two-year warranty that covers everything from scratches to you sitting on them in your car.
What is the technology behind DITTO? How is it unique?
Virtual try on technology is not a new concept, but to date, there were no tools that were sophisticated enough to solve the fit problem. Most of them just allow you to upload a picture and they Photoshop the glasses on top. They don't size the glasses properly, and they look too cartoony to be helpful. Our technology using proprietary computer vision algorithms to detect 150 points on your face as your turn your head side to side like you are looking into a mirror. We then scale the glasses within a millimeter of accuracy and digitized the glasses photo-realistically, so you can see how glasses fit on your unique face.
Did the iPad app require a different approach? Was it more challenging?
Given we create your DITTO with a video from a front-facing camera, the iPad was an obvious extension to our website. The only problem was that we needed webcam access and Apple-products don't support Adobe Flash. We had to build a native app to be able to use the iPad camera.
You mentioned that the more people who made DITTOs, the more accurate it becomes. Can you tell us about that?
Our computer vision algorithms are machine learning meaning the more DITTOs that are made, the more data we have to train our feature detectors. The more accurate the feature detection, the better the overall outcome. We've come a long way in the past 6 months and are excited that over 50,000 people have made their DITTOs. This has improved our technology to the point where 9 out of 10 people will get an "excellent" outcome as determined by our internal analytics.
What has the customer response been so far?
There is an a-ha moment where a customer sees their DITTO for the first time and goes, "Wow, I've never seen anything like this before. This is awesome." I love hearing customer stories from people who think they have a unique head size and were finally able to find a pair of glasses they really love. I think it's telling that most of our sales have come from happy customers telling their friends about us.
What's next for DITTO? Any innovations to look for down the road?
My vision for DITTO is to be the next great retailer so I hope you see us use our technology and go into other verticals like jewelry and maybe apparel.
Photos by Greg Stefano and courtesy of DITTO