Investing in a digital shopping experience that fits

by Foolproof

The High Street is no longer changing, it has changed. The recent demise of Jessops, HMV and then Blockbuster Video are all casualties of new shopping behaviours that have evolved over the past few years.

Retailers as yet haven’t caught up with consumers and are missing out on opportunities to engage with the new digital savvy shopper, often falling foul of new habits and technologies consumers use to shop.

In a recent blog post we discussed the phenomenon of showrooming, where consumers use hand held devices in-store to compare products and prices online. There are a number of opportunities here for retailers to be proactive and, by investing in the overall shopping experience, engage with shoppers in-store and take advantage of these new shopping behaviours.

The cost of online returns

Online shopping however brings its own problems. Christmas 2012 was the biggest and busiest ever for online retailers but they now face the long and costly task of dealing with returns and exchanges. According to Forrester Research only 7% of clothing purchases worldwide are made online, representing a very small chunk of overall clothing sales and a massive opportunity. However, of online apparel sales, over 30% of these purchases wind up heading back to retailers with the major reason outlined as fit.

Fashion e-commerce sites in particular have battled it out with “Free Shipping and Returns” offers to win customer affection and sales. But as it makes purchasing clothing online more accessible it’s at the cost of a more accessible return and lost revenue. The customer benefit of free shipping and returns is now almost expected, but doesn’t solve the issue of fit. With users ordering two to three sizes to try and find their best option, retailers are seeking to scale down returns and facilitate users getting it right the first time.

Finding the perfect fit

One of the best ways to reduce your return rate is to improve the initial buying experience, and there are a handful of forward-thinking retailers trying out solutions., Fitiquette, MyShape, Metail and even an initiative at the London College of Fashion to create Body Recognition software for the online shopping arena are a few examples.

MyShape and both offer users options to measure themselves, update form fields and slide bars back and forth until they’ve gotten a digital model in their image. Metail uses both measurement and photographs to create a “MeModel” replica of the user on-screen and has been used by Tesco most recently. The London College of Fashion’s solution is along these lines as well, requiring a photo of a user in their underwear and their height, which then renders into a digital version of the shopper.

Adapting the online shopping experience

The issue is that even with these solutions a user must find a measuring tape, snap a photo, share a half-naked picture and/or go through quite a long-form process. Even if the user passes through these barriers to engagement, the fit might not always be exact, and the tactile experience is lost. This can lead to abandonment and in some cases, brand dissatisfaction.

Fitiquette trumps competitors in the ease of entry and their list of brand partners. The product introduction allows users to enter in a few personal details and then enter a couple of brands that already fit them best. As the system’s database stores many major brand sizes and their corresponding measurements already it will understand your best fit and recommend clothing based on this.

In the current unstable economic climate the cost of returns is a real issue for online retailers. To reduce this cost, businesses must improve the initial buying experience by creating user experiences that work to their strengths and reduces barriers. Recent research by Oracle found that 81% of consumers were willing to pay more for a superior customer experience. This is an impressive number in a current climate of comparison shoppers and the plethora of sites that support these habits such as Google Shopping and Shopstyle. By investing now businesses can take advantage of changing behaviours and avoid joining the headline making household names that left it too late.

What do you think?