The story behind LifeSizer

This all started several years ago with me buying a small anniversary gift for my wife Rachel. I had a good sense of what she would like… small, elegant, silver hoop earrings. That shouldn’t be that hard. Sure enough, I found some nice ones on the website of a well known jewelry company. The product information on the site was sparse, but they looked like just the type of earrings that Rachel would like. So I ordered and waited for them to arrive.

About a week later I presented the box to Rachel. At first, she looked pleased after opening it, but I could sense that something was wrong. It turned out that (as I had feared when I received them) the earrings were just a bit too big for her taste. I would have known that instantly if I had seen these earrings in a store; but the problem was that there was just no way for me to tell from the image on the website how big these earrings would appear in real life. No dimensions, no other objects or people in the product image that I might have been able to derive the size of these earrings from. I consider myself lucky for being married to a woman who actually prefers smaller jewelry, but needless to say the earrings were ultimately returned and exchanged for something else.

Still, as an entrepreneur, a problem solver and a software developer, this whole experience got me thinking. How many other people may have had a similar online shopping experience? How many others have had to return an item because the size turned out to be different than expected? How many millions of dollars worth of product returns and losses do online businesses have to accept each year due to their customers’ wrong expectations of product size? How do e-commerce stores currently address this problem? Is there a better way?

I looked at some other jewelry sites to make sure that I hadn’t missed anything here. How do people figure out how big something on a website really is? It didn’t take long to realize that almost all web stores use one of three approaches:

  1. The website doesn’t really bother to give any product dimension information at all.
  2. The site does provide detailed product information including dimensions, which may be useful to anyone who has a ruler nearby or can readily and internally visualize how big 1.125 inches is exactly, which is very few of us.
  3. The site attempts to provide a reference to the actual size by displaying some sort of ruler, or another reference object such as a Quarter coin next to the product in the image. At best, that’s as good as solution #2 above, and at worst, it will make an e-commerce site look more like a coin collection than a web store. Sometimes products are shown on models, which might have given us a useful size reference, if only all people were the same size.

 

Shouldn’t there be a better way? “What if you could display a 2 inch object in life size, as 2 true inches, on your computer screen?”, asked my friend, as I described my pondering about this to him. Well, I could certainly make something appear in life size on my own screen, I explained, but then I gave him a long list of technical reasons why, due to limitations of hardware, operating systems, web browsers, javascript, as well as various user experience challenges, it would never be possible to reliably display an object in life size on just any computer display. But he challenged me on my quick dismissal of this concept. For days I couldn’t stop thinking about the problem, until I spent a Sunday afternoon hacking some javascript and html together, which resulted in my first working proof of concept of LifeSizer. Yes, it was clunky, rudimentary, basic and not very user friendly, but it worked! There was no need for the user to figure out and enter the exact model number of their display, and no need to go find the measuring tape to measure up the screen first either. The image of that cellphone on the screen showed exactly the same size as the one in my hand. Why had nobody done this before? Why is this not a standard feature of web stores that sell jewelry, cameras, cellphones, gadgets, toys, baby products, components, etc? Wouldn’t this be much better than that useless zoom feature that so many e-commerce stores have in their product views? Wouldn’t consumers make better buying decisions if they could view a product in life size before purchasing it? Aren’t there a lot of people who prefer to buy that digital camera or necklace in the local store only because they simply want to see its true size first?

Over the next few weeks and months, I iterated on and improved the concept. A single web page turned into a number of pages. Javascript frameworks, a server backend, more math became involved, and over time my LifeSizer app became more powerful and easier to use at the same time. I showed LifeSizer to friends, and everyone thought it was cool and useful. They typically followed up by telling me a story of how they wished they would have had LifeSizer when they bought such and such online.

But then, the project code landed in my backup folder for a couple of years. I never lost belief in the business viability of it, but life, family, career and consulting got in the way, and there just weren’t enough hours in the day to turn this into a revenue generating business.
Years later, when I met Grant – my now business partner and co-founder, it wasn’t hard to convince him that LifeSizer is much more than just a cool little trick. That it has serious potential to help many businesses and consumers. That it can help increase revenues, reduce returns, and give buyers a more realistic view of what they’re buying.

So here we are. After several more months of hard work, we are ready to go, armed with the technology, a patent pending, a big picture vision and short term goals. Though we are still in a private alpha, we are ready to start offering our service to some first clients. Those first users can now take their LifeSize image, embed it in their stores or stick them on their blogs.

If you’re interested in trying it out yourself, please join our invite list and we’ll send you an invitation very soon. We are more than excited to release this service to the world to just see who will use it and how.

We’d love to hear from you. Suggestions, questions, feedback, bugs, anything. Know a site that should use us? Let us know. Or, even better, let them know.

But please do drop us a line, sign up for our mailing list, follow us on Twitter, or on Facebook. We’re here, and we’re listening. Happy LifeSizing!

Peter Hulst
CEO & Founder
LifeSizer, Inc.

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