Sizing and fit makes selling clothing online complex.

It’s been 17 years since Natalie Massenet unleashed a new concept on the world – buying clothing on the web.

Online shopping for books was one thing – books are easy to ‘try’ online to see if they fit your preferences. You can see the cover, read the blurb and even view a few pages before you buy. But trying on clothing… Impossible.

H&M reply to a query about sizing.

Even offline, clothing sizes can be different between stores (this website helps you compare sizes – a size 10 in River Island is almost a size 12 in Dorothy Perkins!). To complicate matters further, fit isn’t just about the actual sizing of the clothes. Individual’s personal preferences mean some prefer some clothes tighter, and some clothes baggier.

It’s obvious that buying clothes online can be more complex than just buying a book – yet more EU online shoppers bought clothing over the last 12 months than any other item (Eurostat, 2016).

Of course, this high percentage is due to the countless benefits to the customer of buying clothes online: No need for a trip to the shopping centre, no pushy retail staff, a larger selection and range of sizes, discreet ordering and much, much more.

Though the worry that clothes may not fit is always there. This fit anxiety leads to decreased conversions (after your marketing team has put all that effort in getting them to your site), decreased average transaction value (the customer may only want to try one item to see if it it fits them as they wish) and decreased customer loyalty (Fits.Me).

Offering Free Returns is a Costly Solution

“It is estimated that online returns cost UK retailers £20 billion per year (Financial Times)”

So how do online retailers solve the problem of fit? The most common way is by offering free returns, though these can quickly add up to high fees for your business – consuming all of your margin through the process of handling and repackaging. Studies have found that 72% of retailers cover the cost of delivery and/or return of items, at an estimated cost of £20 billion to UK retailers per year (Financial Times).

This BBC article provides some amusing insight for those new to bringing their fashion brand online who maybe haven’t considered the real cost of returns. Particular highlights involve customer “Emily” purchasing her desired item in four different sizes (returning the ones which don’t fit), and the statement that 5% of all returned items fail the ‘sniff-test’.

Can Technology Solve this Problem?

Fit shaping tool. Helpful feature, or unnecessary step in the customer journey?

As an eCommerce platform provider, we believe that tech can be used to provide customers not only with sizing options, but with ‘fit’ options. Imagine a world where customers could could use online wizards to provide the information they know about their body (be that via body-shapes, measurements, or by inputting clothes they feel fit them well for other shops) choose how they want the item to fit (tight, loose, baggy) and have the website recommend a SKU to them. One would imagine that in an ideal world this would increase conversions, trust, loyalty and decrease returns. What’s more, the seller would have a whole load of crowd-sourced information about body-sizes and preferred fits to feed back to their new product development / sourcing teams.

These technology solutions already exist – big players in the market are rapidly growing plug-ins like Fits.Me and Virtusize. Of course, there are aggregator products like Copenhagen-based Fitbay that can consume a feed of retailer’s SKUs and sizes to recommend your products to searchers across the web based on style and fit – adding more to the top of sellers funnels, increasing conversions and reducing returns.

The good thing is that these products actually seem to work – with brands like Thomas Pink saying that has almost entirely removed the reason of ‘fit’ for returns.

Using the Correct Technology for Customer Journey and ROI

Even if this was to improve conversion, would it deliver an ROI?

As part of a test and learn strategy piloting on a subset of a fashion sellers range, it would be easy to see user adoption and make incremental enhancements to toolsets to encourage uptake. One could even imagine this blossoming into an augmented reality application allowing sellers customers to see themselves in the clothes! But would that result in a tangible ROI?

The take home point here is that all of these ideas must be subject to an ROI investigation with their effect also considered on the customer journey. The novelty of these plugins can wear off quickly, especially if their implementation is clunky and the data they are using is incomplete or inaccurate.

Shameless plug: The EWS enterprise eCommerce platform can integrate with all tools mentioned in this article, and our team of in-house developers can build bespoke solutions for your enterprise, helping you to determine the value of these tools. We run managed services for hundreds of merchants across a range of industries – give us a call and we’d love to see how we can help you.