Shopping online appears to be such a no-brainer these days that it seems everyone should be blithely buying and retailers should be reeling in profits instead of returns. But the huge snag for customers in buying apparel online is the question, “Will it fit?” And that question is costing retailers potentially billions of dollars. “Twenty-seven percent of consumers resist buying fashion online because they’re not convinced it will fit; another 17 percent have bought online but haven’t had a good experience,” NPD Group fashion industry analyst Marshal Cohen says
This may be changing as online retailers experiment with technology they hope will make you believe — and buy. Several fledgling companies have developed software solutions to help shoppers find their size without the dressing room.
There’s a big-bucks incentive for that. For this year, Kantar Retail estimated that online clothing, accessories and footwear sales in the United States would total $34 billion. Moreover, says Cohen, there’s great potential for growth.
How it works
Berlin-based UPcload’s potential customers stand in front of a webcam holding a CD. With the disk as a reference, the company’s software can understand the size of other objects in the picture and compute the length of an arm, the width of a waist. UPcload’s first U.S. presence will be on the North Face site in October.
The year-old New York-based Clothes Horse, which has partnered with men’s online clothiers Bonobos and Frank & Oak, asks customers to fill out a size and wardrobe data questionnaire, as does five-year-old Boston-based True Fit.
With big-box retail Web sites Macys.com and Nordstrom.com testing its technology, True Fit is enjoying an edge. The company started with the concept that everyone knows what items in their closet fit them best and developed an algorithm to connect brand information (it has access to size specs for several hundred brands) with customer input. Using the free program requires customers to fill in an online profile with their age, height, weight, gender and body type and preferred labels, types of clothing (jeans, dresses, shirts) and sizes now in their closet. The algorithm overlays the data of the customer profile, sizes and brand preferences with the specs of the clothing under consideration and recommends the best size.
Like Pandora and Amazon, says chief executive Bill Adler, once it gets to know you, its recommendations get better. Along with size suggestions, True Fit gives customers sizing scores, ranging from 1 to 5; 1 is unwearable, 5 perfect. That score, says Adler, evaluates how well an item will fit you – snug, loose or just right across the bust, the waist and hips.