In the world of fashion it is common to see retailers get caught up in the hype caused by the most recent digital trend. While these trendy new toys have their place, the focus placed on them often causes retailers to fail to deliver the user experiences and content that the consumers really want.
According to Euromonitor, one of the major stumbling blocks for fashion retailers lies in user experience and content in the area of sizing and fitting. In this context, user experience would translate to providing perceptive, positive, seamless steps that allow the consumer to become confident in their size selection while purchasing clothing online.
One of the reasons that consumers hesitate to shop online for clothing is fit and it remains an area where consumers prefer to see merchandise in person and try it on. Retailers who carry a variety of different brands often face the most significant challenge in delivering viable solutions to sizing and fit. Often they must rely only on content that multiple suppliers provide as well as coping with different sizing rules for not only each brand, but each garment type as well.
The online sale of apparel is growing more rapidly in the U. S. than any other segment of ecommerce products. This growth is due in part to advances in online merchandising as well as retailers instituting more satisfactory return policies. For many retailers, offering more lenient policies on returns, as well as free shipping on returns, is a way of compensating for a lack of adequate sizing and fit content. In many cases, customers consider the free shipping policies to be part of the fitting room experience; it just takes place at home rather than in a store. The down side to that train of thought is that if the garment doesn’t fit, it must be sent back, reordered, and reshipped. In many cases that isn’t a problem, but if you need the garment for a special occasion, the time involved may be a crucial factor.
At retailers such as Guess, eCommerce is expanding at a faster rate than at brick and mortar outlets. While this is wonderful, 70% of those who browse Guess.com still do their shopping at the physical stores according to the company’s EVP.
The problem involves three separate aspects
- A conversion rate of just 2% means many lost opportunities. These lost opportunities are compounded by the fact that a valued, lifetime customer is usually not acquired.
- The various costs associated with returns are significant. These costs include such things as shipping and handling, processing fees for credit cards, repackaging, and restocking seasonal products.
- Businesses must cope with operational stress. Processing returns uses up resources that the average retailer could be putting to better uses.
Will virtual fitting rooms solve these problems?
While many retailers are offering more lenient return policies and allowing in store returns or exchanges of products purchased online, the problem still exists. One of the most recent solutions to come onto the scene is the use of virtual fitting rooms, but will they solve the problem?
Several software companies have come into being as a result of the need to address this issue. Fits.me, True Fit, Clothes Horse, and Virtusize have all offered technology based solutions to the sizing problem. They range from size recommendation engines to morphing mannequins and they all attempt to simulate the experience of physical fitting and sizing.
Most retailers would embrace this solution wholeheartedly, thinking it the miracle cure for all of the fitting and sizing woes experienced by online retailers. In reality however, it falls fairly short of the mark.
The reasons vary, but among them is the fact that in order to effectively solve the fitting and sizing issue, retailers must be able to two things that work in unison with the software; a good user experience and relevant, accurate content. Those retailers who have yet to perfect the content needed to fuel the software tools will inevitably find out that if you input flawed information, what comes out will be flawed.
Another reason that these software programs aren’t going to save the day, at least not yet, is that they are relatively new. Virtual fitting rooms must be user friendly in order to work and since they have only recently been available to consumers, there is not a “best practice” established as of yet. In order for the consumer to have a good experience, the steps much be “fool proof” from start to finish, making usability a critical issue for this software.
The fact that there are so many variables involved in the successful function of these programs means that they are still somewhat clumsy feeling and there are still issues to be resolved. These issues can lead to less than favorable user experiences however, and the blame will most likely be placed on the retailer rather than the software itself.
Although the virtual fitting room may not be the answer to all the size and fitting problems that online retailers face, it has the potential to become a very valuable tool. If the experience is inadequate for the consumer, they lose interest very quickly so before purchasing this type of software, thorough and extensive research is needed to evaluate the needs of your business as well as those of your customers.
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