Buying apparel online, especially for women, can be fraught with anxiety. Sizing can be iffy, even with more companies providing size charts, and knowing whether the clothing will fit and look good? Sometimes buyers have to resort to buy, check, and return, sometimes multiple cycles of the same. This is not ideal for either the customer or the retailer. 60 percent of shopper say they would buy more if they were guaranteed a consistent fit.
Technology and AI is starting to provide answers, though. Although they may not replace an in-store associate who's opinions can be valuable, various modern fit technologies are entering the marketplace to help people make good purchase decisions and avoid the hassle and expense of returns. Here are a few things:
1. 3D Scanning. Although right now you have to have the initial scan done in a store, some high-end stores are now 3D scanning customers to get precise, accurate measurements that can be used to make bespoke clothing.
2. Virtual Fitting Rooms. Including phone and tablet apps. The idea is that you adjust an avatar to fit your body type and then the app shows you how various clothing items look. You can even change hair color and style, skin color, eye color, etc.
3. 3D modeling. Amazon has filed a patent for a system that would take internal measurements of clothing, and then compare them to clothes you have already bought. Similar techniques might let people compare the dimensions of an item with one they already own.
4. Crowdsourcing. Various other apps let people find body type "doubles" who might know the sizing for particular items. Another allows users to add their body type and then they get shown items that fit well on people with a similar type.
5. Virtual stylists. Virtual stylists may come the closest to being in the store and getting help from a skilled sales person. Users hook up with a virtual stylist who, generally out of their home, gives you advice over the internet, looking at pictures, the customer's shopping history and body type. Needless to say this option can become expensive. Technology allows for something slightly cheaper - artificial intelligence coded with the knowledge of stylists or skilled sales associates to give suggestions based on algorithms.
6. Sizing algorithms. There are now databases which store the measurements of a large number of brands - the user enters their measurements and body type and it pulls up what size they are in any given brand. With most brands now having size charts online this is more a time-saving thing than anything else. Some of the databases are brand specific and hidden behind the ecommerce site of the brand concerned.
Buying clothes that fit online is a challenge - and knowing what looks good complicates it further. Technology is addressing the need but nothing, of course, guarantees a perfect fit. For merchants, fit technology builds user confidence and improves conversion rates. And while nothing (except possibly a skilled virtual stylist) can yet replace the experience of receiving face to face advice, technology can make shoppers the big winners.