When fashion brands address hot topics in the apparel retail space, they’re usually customer pain points or big revenue drains: returns, clearance or deadstock, inventory struggles, and design speed to market. In many cases, retailers find those issues all relate back to fit.
“Fit is definitely impacting brands much more today than it did 10 to 15 years ago,” said Ketty Pillet, vice president of marketing at Gerber Technology, which owns digital rendering company Avametric. The statistics, particularly in online retail, support her assertion. “This is driven by the growth of e-commerce and online shopping, which represents 14 percent of sales today and is expected to reach 38 percent by 2022,” Pillet said, citing a study by Forrester Research. Pillet pointed out that 30 percent of returns are due to poor fit, making it a top priority for brands to address the issue to sustain profitability and compete with other brands that capitalize on micro-trends.
Billy Pardo, chief product officer of My Size, explained that in e-commerce, getting fit just right reflects well on the retailer in myriad ways, not just the product itself. “In a customer-centric economy, fit is an extension of customer service,” said Pardo.
Stefanie Dorfer, retail editor at trends intelligence company Stylus, reiterated that notion, emphasizing the influence fit and sizing have on customer loyalty. “Size has always been something of a bottleneck in e-commerce. Services and tools that help customers find clothing that not only works for them, but also looks great, is the best way to acquire loyal customers,” Dorfer said. “That should be on the agenda for fashion brands looking for growth opportunities beyond the mainstream sizing chart.”
Going Well Beyond Size
What, exactly, lies “beyond” the mainstream sizing chart? A lot of territory that many brands aren’t exploring, said Vikesh Shah, commercial director at fit tech company Metail. “Sometimes companies can think about fit from a very narrow perspective, only asking ‘What’s the size we should be giving to people?’” Shah said. “But fit is inherently related to style as well.”
Companies developing fit technology also need to consider factors like body shape and even when and where clothes will be worn, said Shah. Fit, he said, isn’t just about the size of garments, but also how they make customers feel. “It’s a mixture of style and context,” Shah explained.
Although consumers definitely want clothes that fit properly, there’s still hot debate as to how responsible consumers want to feel about their fit. Dorfer pointed out that some consumers don’t want to feel like fit decisions are their responsibility, and some may be uncomfortable with seeing clothes virtually rendered on their own bodies. According to Shah, Metail originally wanted to help show retailers every product on any body shape and size—but the brand quickly learned not all customers were looking for that option.
“There are customers who would love to see clothing as it would appear on their own body,” Shah explained, “but there are other customers who just want to see a variety of models with the same hair color or skin tone, or see a garment styled different ways.” In these cases, Shah said, using a perfect rendering of a customer’s body can actually drive them away from purchasing. “It’s easy to get hung up on perfect accuracy in sizing, but there’s no such thing,” Shah said. “From a consumer’s perspective, they just need to understand how a garment would look with their own personal style.”
When Tech is a Turn-Off
While hyper-accurate 3D rendering allows consumers to envision fit realistically, it’s taking time for apparel manufacturers to use those technologies effectively, said Pillet. Many designers are still developing two-dimensional patterns, then trying to convert them to 3D models, he said, further slowing the production process. “The challenge is finding the resources, whether they’re a new role, or re-training existing pattern makers,” Pillet said. “Dedicating the time to retrain existing team members can be an obstacle.”
Sometimes, technology can also be too much, too fast. “We’ve seen customers who come to the topic of fit wanting to try several strategies, and then abandoning it all at once,” Shah said, due to the amount of work they’d have put in. “E-commerce and retail are working towards a zero-friction future, and innovations such as the Zozosuit currently seem like a distraction for many,” she said, referencing the innovation that required users to don a special bodysuit in order to capture their measurements.
Shah agreed, saying apparel brands that don’t approach fit in a way that’s convenient for the consumer are less likely to see the benefits of solving for fit in the first place. The Zozosuit was inconvenient, and it reportedly didn’t even create an accurate fit for many users—and as such, it was slammed in the press.
Sizing Up Revenues
With pitfalls in seemingly every direction, wading into the depths of fit technology may seem perilous at best. However, avoiding the fit issue and working off traditional size models can put retailers at enormous financial risk, says Pardo. “Aside from $64 billion in returns annually, sizing and fit are also costing $50 billion in dead inventory, which never makes it out of a warehouse or off the sales floor,” said Pardo. But the deficit could be even bigger than that. “What isn’t being quantified is the residual effect of losing one customer, as well as access to that customer’s network and future purchases.”
Fit tech companies recognize that making changes to their size standards or silhouettes is challenging. “It’s hard to wrap your head around something that impacts the entire business, from product development to customer care,” said Shah. Pillet recommends retailers start small, and focus on an area where their production timeline is most bogged down. “There’s a lot of benefit in time to market and cost reduction by moving just a portion of those samples from physical to digital,” Pillet said, adding that many fit companies offer training sessions or in-depth lessons on how to optimize software that aggregates fit data or renders 3D models.
Shah said that companies need to look at fit as it relates to their long-term profits, not just short-term revenues. Many retailers try and use fit to solve for returns, and not much else, he said. “On average, customers shop at a specific clothing store maybe three times a year,” said Shah. “So if you’re trying to reduce your monetary losses on returns, it’s going to take a long time to see fit changes have an impact there.”
In other words, fit technologies are a long-term investment, not a short-term solution. “Most retailers do not directly connect fit and fit-related issues to their bottom line,” said Pardo. “But having a poor fit experience can cost a brand to lose their customer permanently.” That, Pardo said, is reason enough for brands to examine their fit technology more closely, and take their time to find the tool that will improve their design process or give customers an extra boost of purchase confidence.