I bet there isn’t one online shopper who hasn’t debated the convenience of shopping for clothes and shoes on the web versus the frustration and inconvenience of the guesswork involved, and the added hassle of returning and exchanging the merchandize. Let’s face it. Even the option of free returns and free shipping doesn’t trump the satisfaction you get from putting something on and feeling instant gratification that it fits! Not to mention that on the other side of the equation, businesses lose a lot of money in free shipping and tight margins. Online consumers return 20% to 30% of purchases like apparel as opposed to less than 10% of purchases like toys or home products.
Is there a way out of this predicament? As consumers spend more time on the web and on smartphones, the frequency and popularity of online shopping is only going to increase. The retail industry recognizes this problem. To that end, there have been quite a few companies trying to find a solution by creating online sizing apps, virtual dressing rooms, and so on. Let’s look at some of these innovators and the technology that they are developing to make our lives easier.
True Fit is one the leading players in this space. Launched in 2007, they have partnered with retailers like Nordstrom, Macy’s and Hudson’s Bay to put consumers at ease while shopping for clothes and shoes online. Here’s how it works: you create a profile with True Fit, provide them with basic information about your body type like height and weight. Then you tell them what’s the favorite piece of clothing that you own. Then True Fit runs their magic algorithms to help you find clothes that have the perfect fit. You also get a confidence rating for how satisfied you will be with your purchase.
How do they do this? They have data collected from over 1,500 brands and have built algorithms to determine the fit and style of each piece of clothing based on the fabric, cut, etc. They match this data across the various brands and enable people to shop with more confidence.
Here’s how it looks on Nordstrom. Say I’m interested in this running layer. Nordstrom will give me the option to find my True Fit.
It’s as simple as that. And just like Netflix generates increasingly relevant suggestions for you over time, True Fit also learns your preferences, shopping history, and provides increasingly personalized offers. This helps brands as their products get presented to people who are more likely to turn from browsers into buyers.
Data science and machine learning is enabling companies to develop all kinds of super sophisticated technologies. There are apps like vFit and Shoefitr that focus just on shoes, since it’s such a challenge to find a shoe with just the perfect fit. These apps also use data science based technology and 3D scanning to create matches since sizing varies within different brands. You tell them what your favorite shoe is and they’ll help you find a similar fit from other brands, and even give you information on how it will fit. How liberating to not have to order the same shoe in different sizes and then return one later!
Then there’s a company like Fit Bay that uses the slightly odd-sounding concept of “body doubles”. They require users to punch in their arm length, torso length, etc. and then they are recommended clothes according to what fits a body double of their particular type.
And then there are virtual fitting rooms like Metail. Their proprietary software requires you to provide your measurements, based on which they create a 3D model of your body – your MeModel as it’s called- even matching your hair and skin tone, so you can see how different kinds of clothes look on your body.
Clearly, all these technologies are geared toward increasing confidence in online shopping, and reducing the volume of returns and exchanges that cut into retailers’ profits. At the same time, this is an acknowledgement of how the process of shopping is evolving. With so many companies involved in developing these technologies, we cannot deny the impact of online shopping and the imminent need for such technology that makes online shopping increasingly easier and more convenient.
Last week, we wrote about how brands and retailers need to become technology companies. Who would have thought a couple of decades that one day, there would be a need for such technologies that let us order clothes on the internet and have them delivered to our doorstep? It’s great that it’s happening. This is a positive move in the direction of making online shopping more seamless and personalized.
The personalization aspect needs to be emphasized here. All these technologies become smarter as consumers shop more and share more data. It’s not just about making shopping convenient. Shopping is becoming pervasive and consumers are expecting more personalization and customization in what they are offered. Data science and machine learning are enabling these shopping experiences of the future. Machine learning empowers these solutions to scale and further strengthen the promise of seamless and personalized shopping.