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eBay has acquired PhiSix, a 3-D virtual fitting room technology company in the Bay Area, to help consumers make more confident purchases online.

ebay PhiSix acquisitionThe San Jose-based e-commerce giant did not disclose how much it paid, but said PhiSix founder, Jonathan Su, a former Intel research scientist and Stanford computer science PhD, will be joining eBay along with three other employees.

While the acquisition sounds minor, the technology is tackling a big problem — making consumers confident enough to purchase clothing online and happy enough not to return it. To date, most e-commerce companies have solved this problem with less elegant — and costly — solutions, such as providing free returns.

eBay says the two-year-old company’s technology can recommend a size based on a person’s basic measurement inputs. It believes this will result in fewer returns. In eBay’s case, this may be even more important since a large percentage of its sales occur between two individuals, who are understandably unwilling to shell out for the return. However, an eBay spokeswoman said it will be integrated across the entire eBay portfolio, and that it has both online and offline possibilities.

PhiSix is not the only startup working on this technology, and it would not be surprising if Amazon is tinkering around on this, too. It has been particularly vocal about its interest in fashion, and has partnered with to provide virtual fitting room technology to third-party retailers built on the Amazon Webstore platform. 

Amazon also provides a 360-degree view of live models through the use of videos on its MyHabit fashion site, which is not the same, but targets the same problem — providing enough information to the shopper to help make the decision to buy an easy one. Other e-commerce companies use body measurements to help consumers make better purchasing decisions, and Microsoft’s Kinect technology for the Xbox has also been used to demonstrate how changing rooms could become high tech.

To demonstrate PhiSix’s capabilities, eBay released a video of the technology. In the clip, a consumer flows through a regular online shopping experience, clicking on blouses and pants. A 3-D rendering of the outfit is then visualized on a model.

See for yourself how these avatar-like models strut down the runway.

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