Win at E-commerce by Inspiring Consumer Confidence

As the fastest growing sector in e-commerce, global apparel and footwear sales are expected to increase 6 percent to $1.9 trillion this year, according to Euromonitor International. But despite projected growth, only about 10 percent of apparel and footwear sales take place online. Compared to categories such as books and electronics that see between 30 percent and 60 percent of sales online, apparel retailers have a long way to go just to catch up. Having mastered many fundamental issues such as user experience, privacy, delivery and payments, retailers still have a major hurdle to overcome:  giving virtual window shoppers the confidence they need to transform browsers into buyers.

A few years ago, I accompanied my wife as she shopped for jeans. She tried on about a dozen different pairs and kept sending me back to the rack for more. While it was frustrating for me, it was even worse for her. We left the store empty-handed, and she was discouraged, feeling like something was wrong with her body. While this experience was dreadful for both of us, online shopping historically has been even more frustrating, without the option of walking into the dressing room and sending your husband out for a new size. Shoppers try to solve this problem by ordering multiple sizes of an item, and taking advantage of free shipping to send back what doesn't fit. While an added convenience for shoppers, this comes at a cost to retailers, which is ultimately born by consumers. Not only do returns reduce net sales, but they also create significant increases in incremental shipping costs.

This frustration and anxiety around fit doesn't need to be part of clothes shopping, and as retailers solve this problem, shoppers will have the confidence that the items they fall in love with onscreen will actually fit and flatter them in real life. And they will get the right size the first time. Since there is no uniform sizing scale among brands, retailers need to take the issue of fit into their own hands and give their shoppers the confidence to click the “place order” button. As retailers overcome this confidence gap with consumers, e-commerce sales of apparel and footwear will soar.  Non-consuming web visitors, which make up about 90 percent of the total, will start buying.  With increased confidence, browsers become buyers. 

So what makes shoppers purchase an item they try on, or keep an item they order online? Choosing the right size is one piece of the puzzle, but it's not enough to solve the overarching problem – how the apparel or footwear item fits and whether it flatters their body. Fit is subjective. When a woman tries on a pair of jeans or a dress, she looks at herself in the mirror before deciding if she likes the garment. It needs to feel good and look good, before she can say “I love this.” It needs to flatter her body. But this is personal, because what one shopper may love, another may find too tight or too baggy.

To really win at e-commerce, retailers need to give shoppers the confidence that the items they order will not only fit them, but flatter their bodies. This goes beyond mathematical matching of measurements to a size, to capturing the subjectivity of flattery. In order to provide useful recommendations to shoppers on what items will fit and flatter them, retailers need to adopt technology that takes into account fit data from multiple sources. If done right, shoppers will not only have the confidence to make a purchase but also step outside of their comfort zones and discover new brands and styles they've never before considered.

Starting with an item blueprint, detailing all the measurements and qualities of each garment, coupled with consumer attributes to help understand body type and personal preferences and finally data from successful (or unsuccessful) past purchases, fit data is the best predictor of how a garment will fit and flatter.  As more data is considered and gathered from successful purchases, recommendations on which item will be best for a particular shopper will get smarter and more personalized – operating in a similar fashion to Pandora or Netflix. Once shoppers have the confidence that they are buying the right item, they will not only keep the items they order (resulting in lower return rates) but also increase the frequency of purchasing online. Retailers that use the fit confidence platform eliminate guesswork for their customers and help them to discover and confidently buy items that best fit and flatter their body types.

Leading retailers are starting to tackle this problem. Some, such as Nordstrom, Macy's, Lord & Taylor and House of Fraser, are ahead of the game, already offering fit-and-flatter technology on their e-commerce sites. While it has been an accepted problem for years, e-retailers are finally placing their focus in this area because of the growth of online shopping and the potential to increase market share if they deliver an experience that surpasses their competitors.  And those who want to win in this area will offer recommendations on how garments will not only fit, but flatter their shoppers' bodies, resulting in happy customers who buy more and return less.  

Romney Evans is co-founder of fit technology firm True Fit.
This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds