The Virtual Fitting Room : Survival of the Fittest
Members of the Siasto team have recently been in the market for a new pair of trousers (pants) and this prompted a comprehensive San Francisco fashion odyssey, past the ancient white cliffs of traditional bricks & mortar retail, and up the turbulent rapids of etail.
In our next post, we shall recount the more amusing details but we wanted to focus first on a fashion-tech trend we encountered. Once again, the importance of simplicity reigned supreme.
While on our journey, the theme of ‘fit’ was constantly buzzing in our ears. It is the key to fashion retail. At the turn of the 21st century, boo.com infamously crumbled after failing to convince people to buy clothes online. Technological innovation, it transpired, did not translate into sales. Ironically, only a few months after the bankruptcy, two other online fashion startups were launched and, from the rubble of the tech bubble collapse, these have now become huge global businesses - Net-A-Porter and ASOS.
Following these pioneers a decade later, startups like Bonobos and Everlane have raced into the space under a cacophony of marketing noise such as ‘cutting out the middle man’ and ‘disruption’. Today, selling clothes online works and a new fashion etail ‘space race’ has emerged - virtual fitting rooms.
Fit is crucial. A recent presentation on the fashion sector by French firm Lectra SA - a world leader in CAD/CAM solutions for the textile industry - suggested 62 percent of customers were unhappy with fit. 1 out of every 5 garments is returned because of poor fit and 1 out of every 3 garments sold online is returned because of fit.
Industry magazine Drapers’s Etail Report of 2012 corroborated this, showing 70 percent of all returns are fit related. Furthermore, research carried out last year by UK virtual fitting room company, Fits.me, found that 60 percent of people won't purchase clothing online if a retailer does not offer free returns.
Compared to improved conversion rates, a reduction in return rates is the more accurate gauge of effectiveness as customers who choose to use the service are probably more likely to purchase anyway.
Swedish fit solution, Virtusize, claims their size recommendation engine reduces fit-related returns by 50 percent. Clothes Horse has prioritised ease and speed of use, and the questionnaire process takes customers less than one minute to complete - Client and shirtmaker Ledbury’s return rate has remained around 7 percent since adopting Clothes Horse.
Fits.me has suggested one client’s fit related returns are down by 70 percent since using their morphing mannequin service. True Fit’s extensive and time consuming customer survey uses algorithims that, tested by Guess.com on 400,000 users, reduced the return rate for premium denim to 20 percent from 50 percent.
At the even more complex end of the market, startups like Styku are trying to use Microsoft Kinect to act as a body scanner. A quick glance at their website is met with a hail of technological jargon - ‘3D apparel technology, cloth stimulation physics, CAD technology and web 2.0 applications’. I can only imagine a Styku distopia of GAP and Zara stores more reminiscent of a JFK Airport security screening hall - completely unnecessary.
There is an interesting dichotomy emerging between complexity and simplicity in virtual fitting. On the one hand, companies driven by technology hardware specialists are championing complex systems in order to collect measurements.
On the other hand, many fashion retailers are, after trialling these third party solutions, deciding to develop their own proprietary systems after realising that the outsourced products are too heavy and intrusive for their customers.
Although the technology is not there yet, the area is improving and it will be exciting to watch who rides out the Darwinian process. It is clear that the survivors will be those with the simplest and fastest solutions for customers.
These problems are similar to those Siasto sees in the project management software space - heavy feature laden SaaS products vs clean and simple collaboration ones like Siasto. The search for simplicity continues...