New technology is helping to solve sizing and fit – one of online fashion retail’s biggest bugbears
Poorly fitting clothes are one of the fashion retail industry’s biggest problems.
Research by EY shows 76% of shoppers return clothes because of sizing, and these high return rates are thought to cost UK retailers an estimated £60bn a year.
When online fit technologies first appeared, they were hyped as the answer to retailers’ prayers. But the reality was very different – the technology was too clunky or did not work well, leaving consumers and retailers sceptical.
Now, however, the tide is starting to turn. Drapers’ Connected Consumer report, published earlier this month, shows that shoppers’ attitudes to technologies that improve fit are edging into more positive territory: one-fifth of consumers across all age groups, and nearly a third of shoppers aged 18 to 24, are happy to share their measurements with brands, suggesting a growing number of shoppers understand the benefit of doing so.
Anil Patel, director of ecommerce at footwear brand Moda in Pelle, believes perfect fit is part of the personalised shopping journey shoppers now expect: “Today’s market is constantly evolving, and consumers want a tailored experience to allow them to buy with confidence.”
N Brown Group chief product and supply officer Ralph Tucker told Drapers Fashion Forum earlier this month that fit has become an “obsession” for company, which owns womenswear brands JD Williams and Simply Be, and menswear brand Jacamo. He said that when the retailer scanned its customers, the teams found that body shapes fundamentally differ between sizes, and even within the same size.
“Adding two inches on to each size is not good enough for our customers any more,” he said. “They want a product that fits absolutely beautifully, and they deserve it.” The group has increased the number of fitting points on its mannequins from 12 to 256, and is starting to use this data to generate 3D-fit avatars. (Read how N Brown’s 3D avatars redefine the buying process.)
Innovation in fit is helped by the fact that the technology is improving.
Patel says: “Technology is a massive enabler in improving the shopping experience, which can range from augmented reality to virtual mannequins.”
Anusha Couttigane, principal fashion analyst at Kantar Consulting, says: “Some of the more interesting and fast-developing innovations include 3D-body scanning or imaging, and micro-measurement technology.” She adds that Amazon is helping to drive innovation in the sector as it develops fit services via its Echo Look device.
The first-generation Echo Look takes full-length images of the user and make recommendations based on the outfits worn, but having acquired body-scanning start-up Body Labs last year, Amazon’s service is likely to evolve quickly, says Couttigane.
Fit-improvement technology is evolving alongside platforms that create custom-made clothes. Japanese fashion etailer Zozo has launched the Zozosuit – a close-fitting body suit with hundreds of small dots all over it that act as markers. Shoppers take photos of themselves wearing the suit, and the dots enable the brand’s app to capture precise 3D measurements of their bodies. Once measured, they can order T-shirts, shirts and jeans from the brand that should fit perfectly.
Zozo board member Masahiro Ito explains that the suit relies on precision, as opposed to fit technologies that use height and weight measurements or discern a size from the clothes they already own: “We look at the white markers on the suit through multiple photos and are able to create a surface map of the body using algorithms.”
Elsewhere in the market, personalisation platform True Fit uses artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and detailed data about everything from shopping behaviour to style preferences to help retailers personalise the shopping journey. Fit is part of the puzzle, but True Fit’s algorithms also predict what people will keep.
The personalisation platform works with retailers such as sportswear brand Asics, whose customers can click on a “find your true fit” button to answer a few questions about height, weight and age, as well as identifying a brand and size they currently wear that fits well. The brand reported a 150% increase in conversion from product page to cart, and says customers now keep about 20% more products than before.
True Fit founder Romney Evans adds that shoppers who have a positive fit experience with a brand are 81% more likely to buy from that brand again.
Fit Analytics, meanwhile, uses AI and machine learning to create automatic and accurate size recommendations, says co-founder and CEO Sebastian Schulze.
Future of fit
In the past few years, the opportunities offered by sizing and fit technologies have become more exciting – so much so that they now promise “perfection and personalisation”, says Stefanie Dorfer, retail editor at consumer research agency Stylus. “What started out as a blurry AR [augmented reality] overlay is now a high-precision 3D model that allows consumers to try on products accurately or even provides the blueprint for bespoke production.”
The potential of fit technology is clear and the industry has evolved significantly since the days of blurry avatars.
But we are not there yet, as Couttigane cautions: “No single form of technology has quite cracked the code to the perfect fit.” Fit is also a personal preference, and designing algorithms or tools that get it right for everyone is not easy.
Retailers are slowly becoming more convinced about the difference that fit-related innovation can make to their online offer.
Couttigane advises making small advances with consumers front of mind: “The fact that retailers are acknowledging size as an issue at all is a huge leap for the industry. It is leading to important changes, not only in execution, but also in marketing – for example, Asos’s decision to show products on different-sized models.”
Getting the fit conundrum right has been a particularly knotty problem for online fashion, but as with any hard-to-solve issue, the potential spoils are significant. Dorfer points out that those who crack it first will have a huge advantage over competitors, and it is worth noting that any problem that Amazon is pouring resource into is likely to be cracked eventually.
No brand wants to be left behind – especially on an issue so important to consumers.