Sustainable Retail: Addressing the sizing problem

Welcome to the sustainability column that takes a look at what retailing is doing to address the issues in its industry. Much of the ongoing focus will be on fashion but not exclusively.

This month’s column takes look at how sizing technology solutions are becoming much more widely used as a way for retailers and brand owners to reduce the levels of returned products from online transactions.

We are very pleased to bring this series of columns to you with the much appreciated support of our sponsor Prolog Fulfilment.

Sizing has been a perennial problem for the clothing industry, which has not been helped by brands having different definitions of what constitutes a specific size. This issue has been exacerbated by the growth of e-commerce and the phenomenon of serial returners.

Many solutions have been considered over the years including national sizing surveys, avatar-like 3D models of individuals that could then be used on the websites of participating retailers, and various sizing tools. With the increased capabilities of technology and the emergence of AI a new generation of sizing solutions are now hitting the market.

Making sense of sizing

One notable development comes from Google that recently announced it is to make its recently-launched virtual try-on solution available free of charge to brands in order for them to provide an accurate e-commerce try-on feature for their customers.

The solution is currently limited to brands with sufficiently high quality imagery, which includes the likes of Everlane and H&M. These brands’ products can be tried on AI-generated models with customisable skin tones and body sizes. The data generated from the try-on tool will benefit the platform as its AI capability means it will over time deliver faster improvements on its sizing accuracy.

The capabilities of such tools has been questionable in the past but they are improving as technology advances. The Google tool uses AI as well as the company’s method of diffusion and cross-attention to combine two images – one of a model and the other of the clothing item – to create the finished imagery.

Among others successfully iterating their try-on solutions is Snapchat whose integrated AR feature allows clothes to drape more realistically. It has been used by brands including American Eagle that used the virtual tool across its jeans category.

American Eagle jeans

Craig Brommers, CMO of American Eagle, stated: “If you shave even a few percentage points off that retail return rate as a result, you’re talking hundreds of millions of dollars saved for companies.”

Fashion personsalisation tool Dressipi has found from its research that 15% fewer returns can be achieved through offering a truly personalised shopping experiences, which could include the adoption of sizing tools.

Interestingly jeans is also the category that is currently being tested by online fashion retailer Zalando with its virtual fitting room technology. This involves customers using a 3D avatar created using their height, weight and gender to see how jeans will fit them. A heatmap highlights where they would be too tight or too loose and allows customers to see how various sizes from different brands would fit on their bodies. Brands including Puma and Zalando’s own label Anna Field have trialled the technology.

Zalando is also working on a body measurement solution that allows shoppers to receive personalised size advice, which the company says has helped reduce size-related returns by 10% compared to similar items where size advice was not given.

As well as adopting such technology solutions Julia Reynolds, founder of Rey House, says retailers should also look at taking action ahead of this stage in the cycle. She believes the methods of creating clothes relies too much on old methods of production – using a standard body block combined with a pro-rata approach for creating the various sizes. This approach leads to higher levels of returns for larger sizes and older customers whose body shapes change over time.

Julia Reynolds, founder, Rey House

“People talk about sizing technology but it’s also about the production process. The clothing industry needs to make the right stuff in the first place. The over-50s is the fastest growing sector for clothing purchases but the business model is broken,” she suggests.

To address the situation she is working with technologists to gather a mass of data on body measurements through body scans that could then be used by the clothing industry in the initial design and manufacturing stages.

Such initiatives, combined with the various sizing solutions being launched into the market, highlights the level of attention now being given to improving the sizing situation. This will hopefully start to bear fruit and contribute to reducing the growing levels of returns in the fashion industry.

Glynn Davis, editor, Retail Insider

Supported by: