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How the Art of Digital Outfitting Drives Revenue to the Bottom Line

Outfit inspo might be second nature to fashion retailers regularly garbing scores of store mannequins, but how well they translate that expertise from bricks to clicks can mean real dollars for their bottom lines.

Fashion retailers that give shoppers outfitting suggestions garner higher consumer engagement, according to a new study, and five merchants in particular are winning at the complete-the-look game.

In a benchmark report released Sunday on the inaugural day of the National Retail Federation’s 2020 Big Show in New York City, FindMine—a 2018 Gartner Cool Vendor whose artificial intelligence-powered content engine scales automated outfitting technology across fashion e-commerce websites—found that Banana Republic, Mr Porter, MatchesFashion, Reebok and Revolve do the best job of displaying complementary clothing and accessories that coordinate with the main item featured on a product detail page.

Compared to fashion sites whose outfitting efforts lag, the leaders get shoppers to view 31 percent more pages per session and spend 7 percent more time browsing their sites. Perhaps more telling: leaders generated a bounce rate 14 percent lower than the laggards—indicating that consumers are finding content and products that match their tastes and interests.

FindMine launched with the mission of helping apparel sellers ensure their digital outfitting efforts match the ease of dressing a store mannequin in the latest look—which, the startup says, “always sells out the fastest.” However, just 34 percent—or 54 out of 155—clothing sites surveyed offered any “complete the look” styling options at all, according to the benchmark report.

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Common wisdom dictates that many, if not most, shoppers could use a helping hand when it comes to figuring out how to wear and style a new purchase. Outfitting not only offers consumers greater confidence in their wardrobe addition but also can increase basket sizes for retailers looking to shore up the bottom line.

Of the five outfitting stars identified by FindMine, Banana Republic, which uses tech by rival Stylitics, seems to stand out. The Gap Inc.-owned brand offers three complete head-to-toe styling suggestions for women’s items like its Floating Hearts Sweater, Double-Breasted Trench Dress and High-Rise Skinny Velvet Leopard Jean. Each suggested look teases four to five additional products, from shoes and bags to jewelry, jackets and more.

The more complete looks, the merrier, says FindMine, which counts Adidas, Perry Ellis and John Varvatos among its clients. “The first outfit shown may not always resonate with the shopper, which is why showing multiple ways to wear a product is crucial,” the company wrote in the report. “We have found that suggesting multiple different outfits drive higher incremental revenue compared to single outfit guidance.”

Fashion websites like Banana Republic that expand their outfitting suggestion from one to three can drive incremental revenue of 4.5 percent, FindMine says, although just more than one-third (37 percent) of surveyed clothing sellers displayed more than a single complete-the-look outfit. Doing so, however, keeps shoppers on site 20 percent longer, reduces bounce rates by 6 percent and increases page views per view by 1 percent.

Simply slapping together a look isn’t necessarily a win, which is why FindMine often talks about outfitting as “curating” merchandise. If there’s one thing retailers should keep in mind, it’s that the quality of their outfit suggestions matters more than they might think.

FindMine discovered that some merchants highlighted sold-out shoes and jewelry in their complete-the-look ideas for a pair of pants, without even suggesting a good top or jacket that would pair well. Those missteps could frustrate and alienate shoppers. Another athletic brand selling sneakers on a product detail page displayed both pants and shorts in its styling suggestions, which could confuse consumers looking for clear direction.

And that’s not the only way outfitting can go off the rails. Some sites’ complete-the-look suggestions result in “outfits the brand would never stand behind,” FindMine wrote in the report, like revealing tops paired with barely-there bottoms (which could be suitable for some brands, but certainly not all, it added).

As e-commerce continues to erode brick-and-mortar’s share of shopping, fashion retailers must find ways to replicate—or at least mimic—that immersive experience of discovering and styling a vast array of clothing, footwear and accessories products in store. Mastering the art of automated outfitting can help apparel companies draw shoppers into their digital ecosystems—and maybe even convert a customer for life.