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Talking Business: For retail experience, one size does not fit all

James Gambrell is the chief executive of fit preference specialist

James Gambrell

James Gambrell: “Size is merely the label on the item we choose to buy to achieve that fit”

Every brand marketer dreams of understanding who their customers are in rich detail, and longs for the ability to target them on an individual basis. However, the old models of segmenting into a finite number of “personas”, or of recommending products based on collaborative filtering principles, are no longer enough. These simply don’t align with the expectations of today’s shoppers, and are gradually being rendered obsolete by a new approach: what Forrester terms “Personalisation 2.0”.

According to Drapers and Retail Week’s joint report on Personalisation, which was published in April of this year, nearly four-fifths of retailers and brands noted that a personalised strategy towards consumers is increasingly important. In fact, 46% recognised it as crucial to building customer engagement. However, while 96% of retailers believe personalisation makes good business sense, only 6% currently have a plan in place. So although we are seeing brands like Burberry and Ryanair outline firm commitments to up their approach to personalisation, the apparel retail market is still lagging behind.

Yes, markets in which those two brands operate differ greatly, but the principle is consistent: a better understanding of who your consumers are should not be viewed solely as insight for the marketing team. In fact, Burberry’s commitment to using data in a fundamentally different way across its entire business has resulted in its customers becoming 50% more likely to make a repeat purchase than they were six months ago. When applied in the right ways, a personalised approach clearly brings measurable and tangible rewards.

In apparel retail, “fit” is the intersection of personal size and shape preferences, garment characteristics and the purpose for context in which the garment will be used or worn, whether that be work, weekend, social, formal, sport, or something else. The outcome is that two otherwise identical people will frequently, and for reasons only they know, prefer to wear different sizes of the same garment – if indeed, any size will give them the fit they seek. Everyone has their own set of fit preferences, and the concepts of context and change over time are what make fit different from, far more complex than and far more valuable than the near-meaningless term of “size”.

And it is a spectacular illustration of the importance of personalisation: it is not size that determines which garments we choose to buy, it’s the way they fit and the context we have in mind that determines whether or not we decide to go through with a purchase. Size is merely the label on the item we choose to buy to achieve that fit.

Yet historically, clothing companies rely on attributes such as gender, age, affluence and, frequently, “size” to match clothes to their segment of the clothes shopping population. Changing consumer expectations – largely the result of technological changes in retail – renders such a simplistic approach archaic; a one-size-fits-all approach all but ensures that consumers will not enjoy the experience they have become conditioned to want and to expect.

Retailers with access to detailed, individual and collective insights, especially when they are combined with other sources of customer data, are able to engage shoppers and potential shoppers in a far more powerful way than ever before. Such insight provides apparel brands and retailers with the means to redefine the way that consumers search for or discover garments and purchase them, both in-store and online.

The pay-off: the benefits of making each customer feel valued and well catered for. Imagine if your preferred store always gave you exactly what you were looking for. If you can help them find the clothes that are the perfect “fit” for their lives, you increase the chances of not only making a purchase in the immediate term, but the possibility of them becoming a loyal customer in the long-term.

And are consumers ready? Yes they are. Even aside from Burberry’s numerical evidence, a Retail Week survey last year informed us that 60% of shoppers want retailers to present fashion that is relevant to them, and that 69% of shoppers find it annoying to have to search through lots of clothes to find the right thing. A separate study published by Cisco the previous year suggested that 58% of shoppers will share their personal measurements and sizes in exchange for more personalised recommendations.

Where personalisation is concerned, customers are telling retailers loud and clear what they want. It’s time to start listening.

Readers' comments (2)

  • Not only do the majority of shoppers get frustrated finding what looks good on them, my own research (10,000 hrs and counting) highlights that almost every shopper misses garments (in store or online) that they'd look great wearing!

    They never saw / found them in the first place.

    Personalisation, done right, will disrupt this industry.

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  • Without sounding overly simplistic, why not just employ decent staff? Decent staff know what they are doing an know and can guide consumers to what is most suitable for them. Its not hard.

    As far as brands marketing teams go, most of them are fundamentally useless and taking their employers down the drain, financially speaking, with their completely naive and oblivious attitude to what goes on at the sharp end.

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