The Outside View: Size Isn’t Just a Plus-size Issue
Consultant Jessica V. Couch on why the industry should stop shaming and start understanding the real fit problem.
In the last few years we have seen the industry “embrace” size diversity. By embrace we mean, featuring more plus-size women on the runway, in magazines and even creating more clothing for plus-size women.
As with all new and innovative concepts, there is always pushback. People often criticize plus-size models for promoting unhealthy lifestyles by being larger than the norm. Brands attempting to cater to the plus-size frames draw criticism for creating clothing that more closely resembles tents rather than stylish pieces. Even within the plus-size community, all shapes are not created equal. All of these things lead us to realize the fashion industry does not have a grasp on sizing…at all.
As customers begin to prioritize fit in their shopping process, brands need to adjust. This means understanding the concept of size diversity beyond plus size. People of all shapes and sizes are finding it difficult to find well-fitting garments and many are not satisfied with the current state of retail. This is evident in the $62 billion-plus of annual returns with a large majority caused by bad fit, according to a Body Labs study a few years ago.
The Real Figures of Fit
An analysis of more than 1,000 shoppers by Body Labs regarding their retail purchasing behaviors noted that 44 percent wanted sizing tools to help ensure proper fit, 56 percent wanted more plus sizes and 65 percent wanted more petite sizes when shopping. We can see that the size issue is spread across the population of shoppers. The non-standard sizing industry, valued around $22 billion includes, petite, tall, big and tall and other categories that are yet to be named. In the study conducted by Body Labs, 64 percent of apparel shoppers and 57 percent of footwear shoppers said that “poor fit” was their biggest reason for returning clothing. Thirty-four percent of shoppers are unsatisfied with traditional clothing sizes. Around 25 percent of all online and in-store purchases are returned, and 85 percent of clothing shoppers and 72 percent of footwear shoppers would purchase more if they could ensure a proper fit.
There is a disconnect between what is being made and what consumers will buy. Brands are not doing a good job of matching people to product. This is why across the industry we have $50 billion of dead inventory; inventory that never leaves the sales floor. Many brands are designing for one type of person but offering the product to everyone, expecting people to self select into clothing that was not designed for them with little to no guidance. This is often why people dislike trying on clothing, shopping online and trying new brands.
The Fit Resolution
Working as a fit technology integration consultant, I have a deep understanding of the relationship between existing technology and fit-related shortcomings of brands and retailers. From my experience, the main underlying issue is in fit data collection and analyzation. Luckily, many tools exist to help brands collect the right data and create the right solutions. Brands need to be able to identify the obvious and non-obvious size- and fit-related issues affecting their business. For some brands, returns are the main issue, for others high traffic and low conversions are the issue and for many others it is cart abandonment. For every brand the issues may be different, but the solution are all centered around size and fit.
These are just a few of the many fit technologies on the market that are creating ways to help determine the sizing issue.
Strategy and data analysis helps to reduce return for many companies.
Body shape analysis tools allow designers and technical design teams to visualize their targeted consumers body types based on specific demographic information like age, height, weight, current size and locations. These tools use millions of points from existing body scans to create accurate visual representations of the population.
Other similar tools compare size charts of your brand to actual measurements of the population. One tool I encountered was able to accurately predict which companies would go bankrupt solely based on their size chart comparison data.
Lifelike adjustable mannequins help designers to see how garments shift as the body changes. This is great for people who are more haptic and need to understand the body in real time. Three-dimensional CAD systems do the same for those who are more visual by allowing the import of body scan data and the creation of virtual 3-D avatars.
On the retail side, mobile body scanning apps help match people to existing product, taking the guesswork out of finding the right size. For e-commerce, it’s best to manage customer expectations and direct them to their best fitting items through visual methods or technology integration. Implementing consumer-generated visual sales tactics can make a huge difference for users shopping online. Many options exist, it’s about finding the right solution for your issue.
Every Size Counts
The sizing issue isn’t just a plus-size issue. It is an operations issue that is costly, wasteful and marginalizes groups of people from participating in the shopping experience. For brands and retailers, this contributes to costly returns, restocking fees and logistical costs, not to mention the missed sales from hesitations and cart abandonment. Even worse, losing one customer to a poor fit experience could mean losing their entire network of potential customers. Not having a fit solution is too great of a risk to take. It’s time for fashion to take a look at the real problem and start implementing solutions across the supply chain to remediate the issues caused by poor sizing and fit.
Jessica V. Couch is the founder of Luxor and Finch Fit Technology Integration