As body shapes continue to change dramatically, fit is critical and failure to meet customer demand will hit your bottom line.
British men and women are getting bigger and heavier. The NHS Health Survey for England 2015 found that the average woman had grown to 5ft 3.8in from 5ft 3.4in in 1993, and the average man had grown to to 5ft 9.1in from 5ft 8.6in 22 years before.
Their relative weight increases are even more startling: the mean weight of women rose from 10st 7lb to 11st 3lb and men from 12st 6lb to 13st 5lb during the period, which also explains why women’s waistlines have grown from 32.2in to 34.8in and men’s from 36.7in to 38.3in.
Research commissioned by lingerie brand Bluebella shows that the average dress size for women in the UK has increased from a size 12 in 1957 to a size 16 in 2017. However, even “standard” sizes can fail to take into account the endless array of variation in shapes and heights, which represents a challenge for the clothing industry.
Today’s consumer is taller and larger – and expects more choice than ever before when it comes to the fit of their clothing, from different leg lengths to plus and petite sizes. And with so much choice in the UK fashion market, shoppers are quick to return items that don’t fit well and seek alternatives elsewhere. If fashion retailers fail to prioritise fit, they risk losing the trust and loyalty of their customers, and being faced with excess inventory and forecasting problems, which will ultimately hit their bottom lines.
“Fit is incredibly important,” explains Sheraz Ramzan, business development director at womenswear retailer Quiz Clothing. “A good fit will ensure a happy customer experience, increase brand loyalty and help convert that purchase into a repeat customer. It is important that the customer can trust the item will look and fit as it does in the images online or in store. We have detailed size guides on our website which details how to measure your size for all items of clothing and details the fabric and cut, so the customer has a clear idea of what the product will look like.“
Yet despite the growing importance of fit, frustrations are increasingly evident – particularly as online shopping grows: 25% of fashion bought online is returned due to issues with fit, compared with 3% of that bought in stores, according to 3D body-scanning and fit-analysis provider Alvanon. This is both off-putting for consumers – who do not want the hassle of having to return their online order – and expensive for retailers.
“There is a lot written about the frustration of the fitting room, or buying online,” says Janice Wang, chief executive of Alvanon. “Time is important and nobody likes returning things, but they find they have to. There’s the added problem that you might buy a pair of trousers in a size 10 one year, and you go back for another pair the next year and you’re a different size.”
She points out that there is a dearth of fit information available, beyond the standard sizing and, in some cases – such as jeans – leg and waist measurements. This is a particular problem online: “You see something on a model and you can’t imagine how it looks on you.”
Body dimension data and how it is measured
However, there are ways to minimise returns made on the basis of fit. Body dimension data can be combined with previous purchase history and returns data, and general demographic information, to ensure retailers are getting fits right, first time.
Body dimension data is gathered using a variety of 3D body-scanning methods, including infrared and radio wave scanners. A growing number of fashion brands are using it, from G Star Raw to Patagonia, Nike, Reebok and Lululemon, to ensure they can offer accurate fits across different global markets.
“Our design focus at Lululemon is rooted in function, and guided by how our customers want to feel during their sweaty pursuits,” says Eileen Wilson, director of global fit at Lululemon. “Alongside fabric and function, fit and size is extremely important.” She adds that body data has allowed the yogawear brand to achieve size consistency: “We created ‘body forms’ that became our most important tool in validating fit for our products.”
Getting the fit right can lead to change in other parts of a business. Janet Moss, director of operations at Nike, says working with body fit technology enables the company to design and develop product “faster, more accurately, and more efficiently”. This in turn leads to less waste, both in an environmental and financial sense.
“Eventually technology will allow us to go from producing garments in the millions, to producing them in just ones,” predicts Wang. “It’s the most efficient and sustainable way of manufacturing.”
Getting the right fit is key to reducing returns rates, improving customer satisfaction and loyalty, and saving retailers time and money. Retailers that fail to take fit seriously risk being left behind.