Drapers examines how new sizing technologies are helping retailers to drive sales and reduce returns, and whether they are worth the investment in this challenging market.
Four weeks into lockdown, the only route to customers for fashion retailers is online. With at least three weeks to go, and social-distancing measures likely to continue beyond that, online shopping being customers’ only channel is the new normal.
Nonetheless, online sales are not a cure-all, and bring a host of challenges of their own, chief among them sizing. Sizes vary from brand to brand, which drives consumers to engage in “size sampling”: buying the same item in multiple sizes, and returning most of them, usually at cost to the retailer.
Getting it right first time is important from both the retailers’ and consumers’ point of view
Glen Tooke, Kantar
A lot of fashion companies have adjusted their returns policies to factor in longer delivery and postal times amid the coronavirus crisis. H&M, for example, has extended its returns period to 100 days, and Gant to 60. Warehouses are functioning on skeleton staff, and therefore it takes longer to process and send out orders, as well as to accept and restore returns. To ameliorate the situation and minimise returns, getting the fit right is vital.
As Glen Tooke, consumer insight director at data insight company Kantar says: “Everyone is fighting for consumers’ spend online. Getting it right first time is important from both the retailers’ and consumers’ point of view, as delivery times might be extended, and they won’t have to worry about how to get that item back to retailers.”
New technology that uses information on past sales and returns is helping retailers and brands to provide more accurate guidance online, but caution is needed. Website plugins and other tools for fit are not cheap, and may alienate some customers who just want their garment to fit properly without spending time without using complicated tools.
Sizing technology has evolved from taking measurements to recommend sizes, to a more personalised approach of recommending products, 3D body scans, and the option of seeing the same clothing item on models of different body shapes.
Fit technology company Meepl was founded in Zurich, Switzerland, in 2015. It produces 3D avatars using consumers’ measurements and pictures, and CEO and founder Ferdinand Metzler says its technology is now being used by made-to-measure shops that are not able to open or see customers because of the coronavirus lockdown, including a luxury shirt designer in London and a Birmingham independent department store.
“More and more [stores] are contacting us to find a solution,” he explains. “We give them the framework to try things out for free for a certain period. The current situation is hurtful to the bottom line, but we want to build sustainable relationships with them. All stores are closed – there’s no revenue coming in that sector, and we’re helping to enable them to continue their business.”
Sizing technology is not new, but it has evolved from taking measurements to recommend sizes, to a more personalised approach of recommending products, 3D body scans, and the option of seeing the same clothing item on models of different body shapes.
When shoppers are more educated and confident about what they’re going to get, the percentage of customers who shop online increases
Yael Vizel, Zeekit
Earlier this year, in January, Asos launched a trial of a similar augmented reality sizing tool. See My Fit, developed by Isreali company Zeekit, shows clothing on a mixture of real women cast by Zeekit, and Asos models.
Zeekit says its five retail partners – Asos, Adidas, Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s in the US, and Israeli etailer Galita – reported an 18% increase in order value an average of a 36% decrease in returns when its tool was used on the brands’ websites.
“When shoppers are more educated and confident about what they’re going to get, the percentage of customers who shop online increases, they purchase more frequently and returns are dramatically reduced,” Zeekit CEO Yael Vizel tells Drapers.
“That’s translated into massive increases in conversion rate, average order value, engagement, retention, social sharing and above all minimises the brands’ losses caused by returns.”
Zeekit’s own app also allows both female and male users to upload images of themselves or choose a model with a similar body shape, to view what clothing from certain retailers looks like.
Vizel adds: “We developed algorithms that analyse the customers’ body from a regular selfie and predict their bust, waist and hips measurements. On the garment side, our algorithms analyse its fabric, sizing and cut.”
Right first time
However, despite the availability of fit tools such as Zeekit, Kantar’s Tooke says that brands should concentrate on creating consistent sizing at the design and production stage: “[Sizing technology] should be invested in on top of [not instead of] getting fit right, including accurate measurements, clear descriptions and images. A size 8 can still be different over two different items.”
To make sure its sizing was accurate and easy for customers to navigate, lingerie brand Nudea, which launched in October 2019, established a size fit questionnaire, based on algorithms created after research based on 600 women. It includes questions such as on to which hook women fasten their bra.
Co-founder and CEO Priya Downes explains: “It takes into account current fit issues, bust shape and height through a quick set of questions completed in less than 60 seconds.” She says 1,500 women used the fit finder in the six months since the brand’s launch, resulting in higher conversions of 10% compared with 1.5% for those who do not take the Quiz, and a lower returns rate – “in the low double digits.”
US fit technology supplier True Fit supplies an online “find my size” function for brands and retailers including Quiz, Kate Spade New York and Levi’s. It asks customers for various measurements including height and weight, and which retailer their best-fitting piece of clothing is from. It then compares the measurements with those of 17,000 brands it has on file in its “Fashion Genome” databse – which it has contiunuously developed since it launched in 2010 selling denim – to recommend the right size for the shopper.
We hope that these types of services will reduce returns, thereby also decreasing transportation needs
John Avenberg, H&M Group
Since 2018, it has recommended purchases to consumers by comparing sales and returns data to see what other shoppers have liked, and suggesting popular items. To focus on personalisation, in late 2018, it launched True 360, which helps retailers to see an individual’s sizing information instead of using average statistics, and True Insight, which organises data and consumer shopping habits into various dashboards for retailers. One dashboard monitors returns to help the retailer see which products are sent back most often, and another manages customer information so the brand can see how its demographic changes.
H&M Group uses a tool powered by True Fit, and John Avenberg, the retailer’s product area manager, says it a “win-win situation” because of the environmental benefits of lowering return volumes: “We hope that these types of services will reduce returns, thereby also decreasing transportation needs. We believe these features make it easier for customers to understand how a garment will fit and, in doing so, create an even more relevant offering.”
Berlin- and Chicago-based Fit Analytics also started in 2010. Its “Fit Finder” widget or website plugin is used by brands such as Mango and Tommy Hilfiger, and in the last year it has launched two new products: Fit Intelligence and Fit Connect.
Fit Intelligence grants businesses access to information that they would not usually have, including “size and fit consistency reports, shopper preferences and demographics,” which can highlight lost revenue opportunities. It is also focusing on the personalisation of products to consumers.
Co-founder and managing director Sebastian Schulze explains that Fit Connect was designed to reach the customer earlier in the shopping process. Instead of waiting for the customer to choose a product, Fit Connect recommends products to the customer that are “relevant, available in their size and sure to fit”, and Schulze says the feature has had a “significant positive impact on conversion rate, returns and average order value.”
Despite the benefits of sizing technology, ecommerce expert Daniel Bobroff, founder of consultancy Coded Futures, warns that businesses should not rely on it alone to solve returns issues: “Retailers have been guilty of using technology as a silver bullet. The reality is that it’s a complex area, and retailers have educated customers to expect free returns. To suddenly turn to customers and say, ‘I expect you to behave differently now,’ is naive.”
Moreover, Kantar’s Tooke warns that not all shoppers will be interested in using sizing technology, and says it risks “alienating people who just want basics and a good fitting item. Brands shouldn’t make it too technological to the point where one element of the customer base understands it, but a part who aren’t tech savvy don’t.”
Cost is another factor to consider. One ecommerce expert told Drapers that a sizing technology widget would have had a one-off base cost of £150,000 for a large retailer in 2017 – a figure which would have grown year on year. He adds that retailers would see a return on the investment but “not as much as they think” and “usage numbers were very small [in 2017] and I suspect they still are.”
Technology can save customers from ordering multiple sizes of the same item, and getting it right the first time around has never been more important than amid the coronavirus pandemic, when delivery and returns processes are being delayed.
However, it will take time for consumers to change their habits. Shoppers have been spoilt by access to free returns, and they will not automatically trust – or even use – the advances made available to them. Investing in sizing technology may not be a top priority for retailers at this time but should be part of a long term strategy to reduce returns and boost the bottom line.