Online shopping and the growth of internet sales have turned the concept of ‘try before you buy’ on its head in recent years. Instead of heading off in to a small cubicle at the back of the store to try on your chosen skinny jeans, nowadays you are more likely order on line, wait for delivery and then try them on in the comfort of your own home. This sounds great in theory, but the downside for online retailers is that this means literally tons of returns and refunds to process – which has a negative impact on profits.
It is estimated that between 15% and 40% of apparel online sales are sent back as returns, with the industry average accepted to be 25%. Whereas ‘hard goods’, such as homeware and toys, have a much lower returns rate of less than 10%. A customer will judge an online purchase on fit, size, texture, colour and quality. Therefore good fit and sizing are becoming increasingly important for online retailers who know their customers will return goods if the fit is wrong or sizing is inconsistent. A staggering 43% of returned items are sent back due to bad fit.
Another factor in the dilemma of online returns is that customers will often buy a garment in several sizes and then return the sizes that do not fit. Research from Fits.me, a virtual fitting room provider, found that two in five consumers (41%) buy multiple sizes of the same garment when shopping online - simply to find the best fit, and then return the unwanted sizes. Women are more prone to this shopping habit than men. It’s the online equivalent to taking three sizes into the changing room and hanging two sizes back on the rail; except, for online retailers, these extra returns result in a loss in profits as they must be processed, re-warehoused and then often discounted in price due to the fast and seasonal nature of fashion.
So how can online retailers reduce returns? One solution is better technology. "Online retailers need to consider the technologies available to them that can be used to emulate the in-store customer experience of ‘try before you buy’ for as many of the above variables as possible," according to Heikki Haldre, co-founder and chief executive of virtual fitting room, Fits.me
Henri Lloyd invested in new virtual fit technology with Fits.me and reported a boost in sales. “We encourage using the fit recommendation tool, it only takes a few seconds and statistics show that we improve conversion by 21%.” Henri Lloyd, Commercial Director.
Whilst, Thomas Pink also found that utilizing new virtual fit technology vastly reduced the amount of returns to process. “The stats are overwhelming. Fit.me’s recommendation solution almost entirely removes the reason of ‘fit’ for returns. It has smashed the overall returns rate.” Thomas Pink, Head of ecommerce.
House of Holland and Tesco’s F&F clothing range have worked with 3D technology system - Metail, which promises consumers ‘No more guessing games. No more returns. No more disappointment’. Shoppers upload two full-length photos of themselves and their measurements to create a ‘MeModel’ avatar, which can digitally ‘try on’ clothes.
Online retailer, ASOS has invested in detailed online videos of their garments being worn by models, to give the customers greater detail and a better representation of colour and cut. Texture, of course cannot be simulated online just yet!
Accurate sizing is another key area where online retailers can up their game and boost their profits by reducing returns. One company that offers sizing solutions is Sizemic - a fashion technology company, based in London, which provides a ‘one stop’ sizing and garment fit solution for the fashion industry. Sizemic specialize in products and services based on 3D body data derived from 3D body scanning – size survey data, size chart development, SizeUK generic fit mannequins and 3D pattern block development. Sizemic was originally a spin off from University College London and was established to support the SizeUK Retailers and commercialise the application of 3D body data.
SizeUK – the UK National Size Survey, was carried out using 3D body scanners to capture measurement and 3D shape data on over 11,000 adults - a statistically representative sample of the UK population.
In collaboration with the SizeUK Retailers, Sizemic developed an extensive range of SizeUK generic fit mannequins based on 3D average body shapes generated from subsets of SizeUK scan data using unique 3D shape analysis software. This ensures that the mannequin is both a realistic body shape and a highly accurate representation of their age group and size.
The SizeUK mannequin programme is available in a range of sizes and body shapes for different age groups and both genders – Younger (16-34), Prime (20-50) and Mature (over 35). The result is 3 distinctly different body shapes, noticeably characteristic of the age profile they represent.
So it seems the future of more profitable online apparel retail is further investment in technology – improved virtual fit tools, enhanced content/online videos and better sizing and garment technology to cut the high rates of online returns.
You can also read this article on Fashion United