In markets such as the U.S., the U.K. and Germany, around 20 percent of clothing and footwear sales will be made online this year. With online shopping for fashion getting more and more popular, a perennial challenge is the issue of fit: Will the product the shopper chooses fit properly?
Product returns are a natural result of uncertainty over fit, and this can heap added costs onto those businesses that sell online. For multi-channel fashion retailers, 15-20 percent of online purchases are typically returned, but for pure plays, the proportion can be higher. Return rates also vary by brand offering, with retailers that sell multiple brands typically seeing returns of 35–40 percent.
Furthermore, shopper caution when choosing goods online depresses the conversion rate, or the proportion of website visitors who go on to buy a product. On average, e-commerce conversion rates are around 2 percent, meaning that 98 percent of browsers do not go on to buy at the time they visit a website.
Enter, online fitting technology. To help overcome these barriers, more and more retailers are adopting third-party online fitting services. When shoppers have greater confidence that they are choosing the right product, it can boost online conversion rates and help a retailer’s top line. And a more accurate fit drives down return rates, too, bolstering the retailer’s bottom line. In two separate reports, we looked at three of these technologies, True Fit and Fits.me in a report earlier this year and, more recently, Sizer.
True Fit, one of these third-party services, works with apparel manufacturers to get detailed points of measure for garments. The company’s website says, “True Fit knows what fits because it partners directly with over 2,000 of the world’s best brands and leading retailers, managing the largest database of footwear, apparel, and consumer fit data in the world.” True Fit is now working “more and more” with monobrand retailers, bringing names such as Phase Eight, Uniqlo, Aldo and Kate Spade New York on board. In the U.S., True Fit’s clients include Nordstrom and Macy’s, while department store chain House of Fraser has been the company’s most high-profile signing in the U.K.
Fits.me creates images of all possible sizes and fits of a product using shape-shifting robot mannequins that can expand and contract “to represent the majority of physical dimensions and body shapes.” The resulting images appear on virtual fitting room links on retailer websites, where a shopper can see how garments will look and fit on his or her own body size and shape. Fits.me’s clients currently include Hugo Boss, QVC, Thomas Pink and T.M.Lewin.
Our most recent report on fitting technology highlights Sizer, another third-party online fitting service, which seeks to help apparel retailers provide a personalized shopping experience and drive Internet sales. The company’s body-scanning technology relies on computer vision algorithms to capture body measurements with great accuracy and it operates on apps for the iPhone and iPad. The matching system technology allows retailers, in turn, to make size and fit recommendations based on a customer’s measurements. It also helps to enable shoppers to find the best fit in physical stores. And while there is likely to be considerably less demand for fitting advice in-store, because shoppers can actually try on garments there, this solution is part of the wave of technologies that are making the in-store experience more tech-enabled and more integrated with online shopping.
Just how many shoppers are using these online services? Some 10-30 percent of consumers shopping on True Fit–enabled sites use the fitting services, while at Fits.me, the usage ratio varies from single-digit percentages to 30 percent. Jim Rudall, vice president of sales and marketing at Fits.me, notes that usage varies according to the type of shopper, not the type of retailer. New users on a website tend to use the service heavily in order to understand the retailer and how its fit differs from that of other brands they are already familiar with, whereas loyal shoppers use the service to “immerse themselves in the experience.”
On top of improving the customer experience, these services provide a good deal of value to retailers as well. True Fit’s co-founder, Jessica Murphy, tells us that improved conversion rates are a big win for her clients, with retailers typically seeing an increase in conversions of 300 percent when they adopt the service, upping the average conversion rate to 8 percent. Retailers also gain important data from these companies.
Fits.me helps stores build a picture of their customers in terms of measurements, demographics, body perceptions and fit preferences. These data can be made available to retailers across their operations, and they have “heavily influenced the buying and design processes of a number of retailers,” says Rudall. For instance, retailers can make “more efficient and profitable purchasing decisions” on a product level, based on data on the dimensions and preferences of their customers.
Improved customer satisfaction can be a big win for retailers. Rudall notes that the cost of returns is not simply one that is measured by retailers: from a customer satisfaction perspective, too, getting it right the first time is important. Both Rudall and Murphy emphasize that their companies benefit retailers beyond simply driving down costly return rates—they also improve the customer experience.
Services like these can help retailers take Internet shopping beyond the functional transaction that it has so often been, allowing the channel to compete more fully with the immersive experience provided by physical stores.
According to Sizer, many monobrand retailers are finding they need to provide a more personalized online offering and leverage their in-store traffic in order to grow their online sales. In short, fitting technologies have gone beyond simply cutting return rates—shopper experience and customer data are now key selling points for third-party providers of these services.
Deborah Weinswig is the executive director and head of global retail & technology for the Fung Business Intelligence Centre (FBIC) and former top Wall Street and retail tech analyst and startup advisor. Based in New York, London and Hong Kong, FBIC is a think tank that follows emerging retail and tech trends, specializing in the ways retail and technology intersect, and building collaborative communities.