Online clothes retailers want your vital statistics

3 October 2013

shirtsDo you remember the Face from the A Team? He was so smooth he could guess a woman’s measurements just by looking at her in a tight sweater. Now, it seems online retailers would also like to get up close and personal with their customers in an attempt to make sure they buy the right size.

A new Reuters report has looked into the various failed technologies on this very subject after UK online retailer ASOS said they were looking into ways of obtaining customer measurements in order to reduce returns. But don’t think that ASOS are worried about the effort needed to return stuff- no, they claim a one percent reduction in returns would add £10million to their bottom line. ASOS returns rate is approximately 30%.

ASOS, and many other online retailers, offer free returns on clothes and shoes, allowing the customer to simply return goods if they do not fit, although this means that the online store has to absorb the return postage and restocking/disposal costs of returns. One option could be to simply charge for returns, but this could have a disastrous effect  on sales and customer satisfaction.

The alternative is for customers to buy clothes that fit them, and with no standardisation across sizes and retailers, this may be why a reported 85% of clothing sales are made off-line, and with 80% of those sales going through a changing room first, there’s a high chance that new top has already been on someone else’s sweaty armpits getting a perfect fit is also important to customers.

But consumers are loathe to input their measurements into websites, if they even know them, and are notoriously eager to get in and out of online shopping in as few clicks as possible. So what can online retailers do? German software company UPCLoad had to abandon its first solution after poor take-up – a webcam that took your measurements. We don’t know if you had to be naked or not.

Their next solution is an app that asks for your gender, weight, height and age, then asks you to choose the best match from three body shapes. One size fits no-one.

Swedish company Virtusize have a different approach, and instead you compare the clothes you currently own with those offered for sale on a website, to see if the sizes match. Apparently "measuring a garment is easier than measuring your body," but it still sounds like a lot of faff to us.

So are you interested in sharing your inside leg measurement with web bots, or are you happy with the way things are. After all, retailers losing money on returns is no skin off consumers’ noses. Unless of course they put the prices up to compensate…




  • Tim
    They can't "simply charge for returns", since doing so would put them in breach of the Distance Selling Regulations.
  • Grammar N.
    @Tim - even regulation 14(5)?
  • me
    @ Tim - my understanding is return postage costs do not have to be refunded unless the product is faulty or the company is in the wrong. As most clothes will have to go as a "Medium Parcel" if via Royal Mail, the minimum £5.60 1st class (a bit less 2nd) might actually deter people returning items. In all honesty though, it wouldn't add £10m to their bottom line, as from experience people buy two different sizes of the same item, or items they are unsure of on the basis they can return whatever isn't suitable at no extra cost. Hence no free returns = less sales from "risk taking" buyers. They'd need to employ a statistician or accountant to calculate whether removing free returns would have a positive or negative net outcome.
  • John S.
    The obvious thing to do is for the retailers to stop vanity sizing, so you know when you buy a size 12 that it is a size 12 and not a size 14 to flatter you, or a size 10 because they cut costs on materials.
  • Jo
    The answer for both retailers and consumers in the fight against vanity sizing and the issues of online fit is A shopping comparison site that uses all the retailer's size guides collectively to only return clothes that should fit the customer's body measurements. Yes, the consumer has to let us know what their waist and inseam measurements are, but it's free, and very easy, to use. We tell them what size they are in each store, and give them the information to shop how, where and when they want, and without comparison to unobtainable body 'ideals'. I made this site myself (with no prior web dev experience) due to my own issues with finding clothes that fit. My aim is help people stop defining themselves by being, or wanting to be, a store's certain size. If you want more information or have any queries, please do not hesitate to get in contact through the website. Thanks, Jo

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