Ecommerce may be increasing its stake in the retail industry, but returns remain a glaring issue, particularly in the online fashion department.
Clothing returns are one of online retailers’ biggest headaches. Unlike books, household goods or toys, clothing usually involves guesswork on the shoppers’ part in terms of fit and style. In fact, research suggests as many as 40 percent of online apparel purchases are returned annually. To reduce that high return rate and the revenue losses that result, ecommerce companies are turning to new technologies to help shoppers virtually try on clothing and personalize their experience—improving the chances they’ll get a good fit.
Using Body Scans to Predict Fit
Bold Metrics, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., is just one of many emerging companies going turning to big data to help solve ecommerce’s fit problem. The company’s Fashion Metric solution uses a “body data” engine with millions of data points from human body scans developed by research institutions to help find a better fit for online shoppers. The solution’s algorithms can decipher 90 different body measurements for men and women, and match them to a shopper’s measurements and fit preferences.
With access to computing and network power, Fashion Metric can rapidly analyze data points and create body models so shoppers receive recommendations quickly. It’s a software as a service (SaaS) solution, so data storage and network bandwidth requirements are less onerous for its retail customers. Bold Metrics is even working with Salt Lake City-based animation group Morph 3D to create personal avatars that shoppers can use across sites to virtually try on clothing. Ultimately, Bold Metrics hopes its solution will be a mainstay in ecommerce.
“We see a world where you'll be able to sit in your living room and try on 20 or 30 different outfits and then literally speak to [a connected device] and say ‘Buy this outfit,’” Bold Metrics co-founder and COO Morgan Linton recently said in an interview. “And then the next day it could show up at your doorstep without ever looking at a size chart or having to wonder, ‘Hey, what size am I in this?’”
Creating a Topography of the Body
Image-processing technology—which can turn 2D pictures into 3D data—is driving another solution toward the perfect online fit: Zeekit. The Zeekit app asks users to upload photos wearing close-fitting clothing that shows off their body shape and then maps the topography of the their body, onto which they can place images of clothing and see how they fit.
Zeekit founder Yael Vizel used similar technology while serving in the Israeli air force, where she helped convert 2D photos shot from a helicopter to 3D graphics for use in in military operations.
“We knew we could use the technology to layer detailed images of a fashion item over an image of the human body according to body dimension, figure and fabric,” Vizel said in an interview. “The technology also takes into account the type of fabric the garment is made of.”
Like Fashion Metric, Zeekit is reliant on robust networks to generate accurate measurements based on image scans and its own algorithms.
Getting Personal with the Future of Ecommerce Technology
In 2015, for the first time, clothing became the biggest ecommerce category according to one study from an analytics company—so consumer interest in fit technology could soon be on the rise. But whether these emerging technologies will actually reduce returns and encourage shoppers to buy more apparel online remains to be seen.
First, of course, adoption among online retailers needs to increase. For that to happen, Dan O’Shea, contributing editor at Retail Dive, says fit technology needs to improve to a point where it can compete with the experience of trying on clothes in-store.
“The question for shoppers in 2017 is why they’d want to go to a mall or a retail store at all, when there are a lot of benefits to shopping online,” O’Shea explains. “The most obvious reason is wanting to try on clothing. That’s something you can’t do right now on a website or mobile phone.”
If retailers can promise a customized perfect fit, consumers will be more likely to opt online when they shop. O’Shea notes that footwear companies are already experimenting with 3D printing technology to creating custom-fit athletic shoes, although the technology isn’t advanced enough yet to allow for pure ecommerce and online ordering.
“If shoppers feel they are getting a personalized experience, that’s when they’ll start to trust the process,” O’Shea says.