Developers say the technology can take accurate waist, hip, chest and other measurements, which would help the user decide which size garment to buy whenever they visit the website of a participating retailer.
The software is being developed by computer vision experts at the University of Surrey in collaboration with staff at the London College of Fashion, body-mapping specialists Bodymetrics and digital creative agency Guided.
A launch is anticipated within two years.
Professor Adrian Hilton, from the University of Surrey, said: "It's unrealistic to expect online clothes shoppers to have the time or inclination to take a series of highly accurate body measurements of themselves. The new system makes it all very easy."
By taking multiple measurements of the body, the system could save retailers and shoppers millions of pounds a year in return postage costs.
Up to 60% of clothes bought online are estimated to be sent back to the retailer.
Body scanning is already starting to make a mark in the clothing retail sector, but the new system is likely to be a significant improvement, according to the research team.
Because it takes measurements at a number of different points on the body and combines these with a person's overall proportions to build up a detailed 3D image, it offers much greater precision than anything else available in-store or online.
"The potential benefits for the fashion industry and for shoppers are huge," said Philip Delamore from the London College of Fashion .
"Currently, it's common for online shoppers to order two or three different sizes of the same item of clothing at the same time, as they're unsure which one will fit best."