Amongst Promises of a Perfect Fit, What Fits and What Doesn’t?

Clotheshor.se | Source: Clothes Horse

SAN FRANCISCO, United States — Online sales of apparel and accessories are growing faster than any other e-commerce product segment in the US, driven primarily by improvements in online merchandising and return policies, according to a report released by eMarketer last April. But despite these advancements, the difficulty of finding the right size and fit without trying on prospective purchases in a physical store remains a major barrier to even faster fashion e-commerce growth.

At Guess, e-commerce is “growing at a much faster pace than brick-and-mortar stores,” said executive vice president Michael Relich, but nonetheless, 70 percent of people who visit Guess.com shop at the company’s physical stores two or more times per year, where they tend to actually complete their purchases. “They’re using our online platform like they would a catalogue,” Relich said.

In order to increase online conversion rates, which hover around 2 percent, a growing number of online retailers are offering free shipping on returns. “Some customers treat our free shipping service as part of their changing room experience, except it’s at home in their bedroom,” said Sophie Glover, head of technical services at online fashion juggernaut ASOS. But the costs associated with such policies — including shipping, handling, credit card processing fees and repackaging, not to mention the unique restocking challenges that stem from the seasonality of fashion — can add up quickly for retailers.

In recent cycles, a number of young companies, including Virtusize, Fits.me, True Fit and Clothes Horse, have attempted to tackle the fit problem with a range of technology-based solutions, from morphing mannequins to size recommendation engines, that aim to match shoppers with well-fitting garments, boosting conversion rates and lowering returns.

But what’s actually working?

GARMENT COMPARISON

Swedish fit guidance start-up Virtusize helps shoppers select correctly sized garments based on items already in their wardrobe. Users physically measure a well-fitting garment they already own and enter these details into the Virtusize application, or select previously purchased items from online retailers who are partnered with Virtusize (and for which the company already has sizing information), to receive a visual comparison between the reference garment and a potential purchase.

While the experience isn’t exactly frictionless, Anders Rindevall, Virtusize’s head of sales, said shoppers are willing to take a few extra minutes to use the tool. “People are taking time to submit measurements, because oftentimes they are making a big investment,” he said. “People aren’t just buying socks online; they’re buying expensive products like dresses and coats, and they take an extra three minutes to check the size.”

The service is now being tested by twenty-one retailers across Europe, including Nelly, Stayhard, WeSC and Whyred in Scandanavia; StyleBop and Apropos in Germany; and E35 in Austria, who each pay Virtusize a monthly fee, proportional to the number of pageviews their sites receive. ASOS, one of the U.K.’s largest online retailers with almost 4.5 million active customers from 160 countries, is also trialling the technology. According to Sabina Schött, Virtusize’s head of public relations and marketing, approximately 30 percent of shoppers use the tool, of which 15 percent make a purchase. What’s more, the tool reduces fit-related returns by 50 percent, she claimed.

SHAPE-SHIFTING MANNEQUINS

London-based Fits.me enables shoppers to view garments in various styles and sizes on a personalised, robotic mannequin, or “FitBot,” that can mimic 100,000 different body shapes, based on user inputs like height, neck, bust, waist, hips and arm measurements.

“Shoppers see the tool, close the tool, then they shop around, and when it’s time to spend money, they take the time to measure themselves,” said Fits.me CEO and co-founder Heikki Haldre. So far, Barbour, The Outdoor and Country Store, Boden, Ermenegildo Zegna, Sangar, Gilt Groupe, Hawes & Curtis, Otto, Pretty Green and Thomas Pink are using Fits.me, for which they pay the company a monthly fee.

Hawes & Curtis, which does 30 percent of its business online, was an early adopter of the solution. The London-based menswear specialist offers free returns within the UK, according to Antony Comyns, the company’s head of e-commerce. But as the business expanded internationally and began serving customers outside its free-shipping domain, it became increasingly important to assure online customers that they were going to receive a well-fitting product. Since implementing Fits.me, Hawes & Curtis has seen its return rate drop by 35 percent, while conversion amongst first-time buyers increased by 57 percent, according to data provided by the company. Using Fits.me has also had the unexpected effect of strengthening Hawes & Curtis’ connection with its customers, added Comyns. The morphing FitBot is “engaging and fun for customers,” he said.

FIT RECOMMENDATION TOOLS

True Fit aims to match shoppers with garments that best fit their personal style and body shape by feeding a proprietary algorithm inputs like a database of product-specific size and fit information, previous shopping behaviour, and responses to a personal size and style questionnaire. After five years of testing the technology on an e-commerce site called MyTrueFit, which eventually attracted hundreds of thousands customers, founders Romney Evans and Jessica Murphy teamed up with former Timberland executive Bill Adler and have been able to attract clients including Macy’s, Nordstrom and Guess, who pay a monthly fee to use the tool.

True Fit’s customer questionnaire is extensive and time-consuming, however. Shoppers begin by selecting their gender, then answer a series of detailed questions about their upper and lower body. Then they are then asked to select preferred brands, products and silhouettes before inputting their height, age and weight. The entire process takes about ten minutes. But once a shopper’s True Fit profile is complete for a certain product category, the application can offer size and fit recommendations for any item in that category sold by retailers who have implemented the True Fit solution.

While declining to share exact numbers, Relich said the conversion rate of shoppers who use True Fit on Guess.com was approximately 250 percent greater than the conversion rate of those who do not. Guess shoppers who use True Fit are also buying more items and more expensive items, he said. What’s more, in tests with 400,000 users, True Fit reduced the return rate for premium denim to 20 percent from 50 percent, Adler told The Wall Street Journal last March.

Founded by Vik Venkatraman, Dave Whittemore and Will Charczuk, Clothes Horse also offers personalised size and fit recommendations based on inputs like a customer’s height, weight and body type, as well as preferred brands and comfort in a given brand. But critically, Clothes Horse has prioritised ease and speed of use, and the questionnaire process takes customers less than one minute to complete.

Clothes Horse, which collects a monthly fee from retailers based on their online traffic and revenue numbers, has been implemented by twelve companies, including Nicole Miller, Frank & Oak, Ledbury, Bonobos and Ernest Alexander. Virginia-based Ledbury sells blazers and shirts on the promise of high quality and great fit, but does an impressive 96 percent of its business online. Clothes Horse is a way of “de-risk buying online,” said co-founder Paul Trible, who added that while Ledbury’s return rate has remained around 7 percent since adopting Clothes Horse, 9.6 percent of people who use Clothes Horse make purchases, well above average conversion rates.

This type of correlation does not guarantee causality, of course. In fact, it’s quite probable that customers who decide to invest the time required to use a fit guidance solution like Virtusize, Fits.Me, True Fit or Clothes Horse do so because they are more intent on actually making a purchase. A reduction in return rates, on the other hand, is a more accurate gauge of effectiveness.

Yet, for some retailers, a solution that is adequately engaging and easy to use has yet to emerge. ASOS is “regularly presented with new technology designed to support more accurate sizing choices and reduce returns related to this area of purchase, but so many of them are not practical in what they require the customer to do,” said Glover. And although ASOS is currently trialling Virtusize, the company is in the very early stages of testing a proprietary method that is “less tech-based than most solutions on the market,” revealed Glover, who described the tool as “very visual and easy to use.”

Stay tuned.

Nathalie Pierrepont is a freelance journalist based in San Francisco.

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9 comments

  1. Don’t forget High Street Fit Finder! A measurements-based search engine that is the quickest and easiest way to find clothes that fit you (just women’s jeans whilst in beta version but other clothing items coming soon)! The site promotes a positive body confidence message and encourages shopping on the UK High Street.

  2. Very interesting article, however I wonder how much “vanity sizing” has made it difficult for shoppers to choose the right size from brands they have not previously bought from!

  3. Bow & Drape, solved the question of fit by creating the Fit Kit.

    Before a customer goes through the process of purchasing a customized dress, they can order a Fit Kit. The Fit Kit includes a prototype of the the desired garment, in up to three different sizes.

    The entire process is completely free of charge and gives the customer confidence that her customized dress will be the perfect fit!

  4. You should also have a look at http://www.fitsright.net as they not only recommend the best size but also show it on a body. The service works for all kinds of garments for female and male users.

  5. Definelty its completly right.
    The business is right now on the web, and even a product as clothes that normally should be touch and tryed, it can be introduce into this kind of business by giving credibility and security to the customers

  6. And it is not only the online stores that need help with sizing and consistency—sizing is a total mess and puzzle for the average consumer! I have spent years in the fashion business including time as Head of Technical Design at Macy’s corporate when the tech departments published ‘bibles’ on how to measure and sizing standards for private labels—ancient history back in the 1980s. But at least in private label programs while I was in charge a size 8 was always a size 8. Now, whether it is the high street or high end designer in my closet, I have a range of sizes from 8 through 18! This is totally ridiculous!! Why I have an H&M Blazer in a size 12 and a COS blazer from the same season in a size 18 is a real nuisance but at high street prices I can comprehend this. However, when I have blouses, trousers, jackets, coats from designer brands as costly as Haider Ackermann, Alexander McQueen, Yves Saint Laurent, and Hermes in every imaginable size it is absurd!! And this size puzzle distracts–as it is NEGATIVE–from the shopping experience whether online or in store! I always have to worry if the item will fit well and very very very often just do not buy online or even allow my sales associates to send me a new item because it is such a chore to then return the incorrect size and wait for the credit to my card and then wonder if I should even bother trying the size up or down! And I am a fashion ‘professional’–can you imagine how many sales are lost daily to the average consumer? It is a tough enough market and economy without adding to consumer confusion and angst. Please do something akin to sizing consistency at least WITHIN YOUR OWN BRAND! Thanks for listening and happy 2013.

    Sara Busch from Brighton, Brighton and Hove, United Kingdom
  7. I don’t care HOW MANY gizmos, morphing mannequins or bells and whistles you utilize to “custom fit” ready-to-wear. The very best thing- to quote an old nut, is an “educated consumer”. I will say that the true-fit questionnaire seems like a great way for individuals to get insight into their own best fit for RTW.

    As a designer and maker of custom made clothing for men and women, I have learned that there are 2 very different mind sets between the two (and women REALLY need to catch up!)

    RTW is NOT (and never will be) custom fit, and until…

    1) Makers and consumers stop buying into “Vanity” sizing
    2) Women (pretty much the guilty party here) Learn to use, read and trust a measuring tape-honestly it CAN be your friend!
    3) People stop expecting “custom fit” from a computer – you may get a better approximation, but with ready-to-wear lines, if they are not designed with a very specific “body type” in mind- they will rely on stretch and looseness to fit. So “fit” becomes moot.

    …we won’t be able to improve fit, because people just don’t know what FITS!

    I do think all these tools are making minuscule headway into the whole fit quandary at this point- but then let’s not forget about the size quandary!

    That’s a whole other mess….

    I for one would be very happy if women would learn from men and get past the instant gratification fix and maybe once in a while splurge on something actually custom made and fitted just for them (by a pro). They would learn a LOT and it might just raise the whole bar….