Preventing e-commerce returns in fashion: are these innovations the answer?

Paazl
By Paazl
January 3, 2018

Returns are a problem for online retailers on a global level. Consumers worldwide buy and return a staggering $642.6 billion worth of product annually. To put this in perspective, the value of goods that consumers decide they don’t really want would rank as the world’s 21st largest economy. It is just behind Switzerland and ahead of Argentina, based on the World Bank’s most recent available global economies’ ranking. So, is there anything we can do about this?

Let’s start by looking at the key reasons customers return their online purchases:

1) Product does not match the online description or photos

2) Wrong size or fit

3) Wrong items shipped out

4) Items were damaged during delivery

5) Customer does not like the product or gift

While we might never find a solution for customers who simply do not like an item, there are still 4 reasons left that you can impact in some way or another. In this article, we focus on reason number 2 by looking at the companies that are preventing e-commerce returns related to size, fit and style.

A smart digital advisor

One of the key challenges while buying apparel and shoes online is finding the right size. And what if you don’t even know what style to get? Wait for it… Yes, there is an app for that! For innovation around this issue we head over to The North Face’s smart digital advisor – powered by IBM Watson artificial intelligence. After answering a few short questions, the tool returns (pun intended) with a tailored selection of jackets you can choose from, greatly reducing the chance of a return. On the downside: developing this kind of intelligence does not come cheap…

3DAboutMe

Unsure about your shoe size in a certain brand or style? This is where 3DAboutMe comes to the rescue. Using an app plus a simple A4 sheet of paper, users can create a 3D model of their feet in a matter of minutes. Wow-factor guaranteed.

With this 3D model in hand, you can now shop around at a range of retailers who currently support the tool, including Van den Assem, Only For Men and Men At Work. See a pair you like? By pulling data from a growing database of shoe dimensions 3DAboutMe will now instantly inform you on the size you need. Awesome!

Virtusize

Virtusize is 3DAboutMe’s two-dimensional brother. Users enter the dimensions of their favourite jacket or shirt, which is then virtually laid over a 2D-image of the item on sale. After this, it is just a matter of finding the size that best matches the item you already own. On their website, Virtusize claims this solution will reduce returns by as much as 30% and even increase revenue. Adding credibility to this claim is an impressive list of clients including Nudie Jeans, Filippa K, and Balenciaga. For a live example head over to Swedish fashion brand Acne Studios and click on Fit & Sizing and the ‘Fit Visualizer’ button.

Rakuten Fitsme

FitsMe was acquired by Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten in 2015. Since then we have seen this solution from Estonia turn up in a growing number of online stores, for whom good fit is key. Take Hawes and Curtis for example. The British shirt maker uses FitsMe to help customer find the perfect fit. Unlike Virtusize, this involves no measuring of an existing item – simply entering your body details and shape is enough for FitsMe to give an advice (based on fit dimensions entered by the retailer)

The results are impressive. According to FitsMe, only 4.5% of shoppers using the tool returned their purchase. Those no using the tool returned almost four times as much, with 16% of items coming back.

  

MeTail

MeTail is where shopping meets gaming. This British company has been in business since 2008, working on perfecting ‘virtual fitting rooms’. Users can create their own custom MeModel-avatar, which can then be used to model new styles. Users can fill out a wide variety of sizes, and choose from a set of pre-defined faces to create a virtual copy of their body.

The retailer meanwhile has to digitize the garments they want to display. At the start of the MeTail this was a costly process – up to €400 per garment – but these costs have dropped dramatically. For an example, head over to Australian fashion store Princess Polly where they are currently trialling the tool for a select number of styles.

Conclusion

The market for ‘return prevention tools’ is heating up. As e-commerce is maturing, retailers are looking for tools that take out the final burdens of distance selling. Preventing fit-related returns is one of the areas that still requires attention at many fashion stores. Not only will this reduce costs, it can also greatly improve customer experience by saving customers the hassle of shipping back unwanted items.

Looking for more e-commerce delivery inspiration?

Be sure to discover our latest whitepaper in which we analyze the delivery & returns policy at 26 online fashion stores:

More inspiration.