Interactivity In The Jeans

I've never gotten fully naked in the doctor's office. Always kept my Skivvies on.

I've never gotten fully naked in the doctor's office. Always kept my Skivvies on. But here I was in the changing room of a San Francisco jeans store and I'm buck naked, about to put on some store issue underpants.

All this, just to find out what size of jean I should purchase. This is Levi's new interactive clothing store. And the centerpiece is the body scan, where you trip some fantastic lights to figure out your girth.

You step into a dark, industrial room with a hole in the roof and a pair of footprints on the floor, indicating where you're supposed to stand. And stand. And stand. For me, nothing happens. Seems a garbage can is obstructing a lamp, foiling the process. If this is the wave of the future, I'm ready to go back to the past.

Anyhow, the "technical" problem is easily fixed. Soon, I'm being bathed in flickering white light from four scanning lamps. I'm being measured so I can get custom-tailored jeans. None of the angst of being between conventional sizes.

The result is spit out on a video screen. The monitor tells me my waist is 37.9 inches around. Funny, I'd always just automatically thought it was 38 inches, since that's what I always buy.

But the scanning doesn't start there. On the way to the changing room, a new customer gets his or her finger scanned. To get around this phantasmagoria of sight and sound in downtown San Francisco that also happens to be a retail store, you get fingerprinted.

This allows you instant access to such store features as its six music listening stations or its "image catching" area, a digital update of the old tradition of getting your photo taken against strange local backdrops.

There's also the "people toaster," where you go to get your wet jeans to shrink to fit perfectly before you even step outside. And a spiral staircase called "The Vortex," which highlights the audio and video works of emerging artists, in case you need more entertainment.

Ultimately, all the interaction is designed to sell you more jeans with more options than ever before.

The best part of the store is where you can get your jeans painted, ornamented and even etched by a laser. Don't want to get a tattoo? Just bring in a bitmap of your favorite image - and have it burnt onto the backside of your jeans.

Eventually, you'll probably be doing your own body scans in the privacy of your home. And personalizing your jeans from the desktop, as well. But what Levi's is really showing is that not all interactive retailing innovation is taking place on the Web. The bricks-and-mortar folks can also use it to draw a particular "demographic" - the 18- to 24-year-old set - into a store, not away from it. The interactive store is so successful, it's even raising traffic at a noninteractive Macy's store a block away.

Makes you kind of wistful for the old tape measure. It's simpler, and you don't even have to take off your belt. And, poor me, I always thought talking to a tailor was interactive.