Sizes and e-commerce returns

The body positivity movement has been developing for a few years now. It has contributed to the beginning of the de-stigmatization of more diverse body types, including “plus-size” bodies.  Yet the fashion industry has been slow in allowing everyone to dress with clothes that are both trendy and can fit all kinds of bodies.

In the USA, jeans that are above the average American woman waist size represent only 13% of stocks in malls. This is a huge opportunity for e-retailers, who today represent the best place to find clothes in the right size… however, the market is facing massive returns, that take a chip in its profitability.


Massive returns, an e-commerce pain point

E-commerce margins are not inherently bigger than brick-and-mortar retailers’. E-commerce costs are mostly variable, while physical stores have mostly fixed costs; they can thus increase their margins by increasing their sales volumes. That is not true for e-commerce players, who suffer from both a high acquisition cost of new customers and high supply chain costs; especially when they have to include the cost of returns. Consumers now expect free returns; companies that can’t decrease either the mass or the cost of returns face considerable losses.

One of the main reasons for returns is size: consumers order the same product in different sizes, then return the sizes that aren’t right. Lack of transparency and consistency in size systems is a factor of this phenomenon. Moreover, just because the size is alright doesn’t mean a garment truly “fits”. Sometimes a piece of clothing can be unflattering even though all zippers can go all the way up. Body types are various and will not be enhanced in the same way by the same pieces and cuts.

How can customers visualize how a garment will look on them if they see everything worn by size 4 models? This is why more and more e-commerce apparel websites offer “size inclusive” product pages: they show items worn by models in various sizes, allowing everybody to picture the garment on a body closer to theirs. Although the process is more expensive at first (since more pictures need to be taken), it can help decrease the number of returns —and create a more loyal consumer basis. This is how the brand Universal Standards was built around a size inclusive philosophy. The brand wants to show the most varied range of body types and, says Polina Veklser, co-founder, “give women the freedom of their bodies”.


Tech and new perspectives

Many startups understand the market opportunity that’s appearing and decide to get involved. Beyond services derived from VR, which have not yet proven their ability to totally disrupt online shopping, a number of new algorithms allow consumers to find the garments that will fit them best.

That is how the website TrueFit is using IA to allow brands and retailers to increase their revenues by allowing users to find the right pieces for them. Indeed, consumers who have a successful fit experience are 81% more likely to renew a purchase with a brand. The philosophy behind the service? “Making fashion easy and personal”. By aggregating sizing data of many retailers and brands, including consumer reviews, the service can understand how clothes will fit on different body types and thus guide consumers, recommending the best-adapted clothes for each of them.

In the same philosophy, websites like True&Co. and Third Love offers “fit quizzes” that help consumers determine the right size for them in various brands thanks to the feedback of other consumers. The True&Co. quiz focuses on bras and is made of a series of questions about the fit of the consumer’s current wardrobe (things like do your straps usually fall from your shoulders, etc). Then, the algorithms behind the quiz can generate 3 bras that will fit the consumer “perfectly”.


Look Forward’s perspective

The matter of returns and sizes is a burning question in the fashion industry. Growing personalization in the industry should allow for a decrease in the returns —either through better size transparency and the way they fit different body types or through services that make for a better matching between consumer bodies and proportions in different brands products.

This matter could also become less of a problem for the industry if it can decrease the cost of returns. Omnichannel retail could be a way to achieve this, allowing customers to return their unwanted items in store or in “return bars” such as those operated by Happy Returns. In the end, a better return logistics could allow brands to accompany their customers’ evolving bodies, just like Universal Standards with its unique return policy. They guarantee free returns for a year, allowing consumers to send back their clothes, should their body change. Polina Veksler says ““Instead of buying for what they hope their bodies look like, [our customers can buy] to see their reflections in the present.” And it appears their philosophy is quite convincing: the company raised $7 billion in series A, with experienced entrepreneurs

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