Approximately 40 percent of apparel purchased online is returned, according to research from Detecon Consulting. The top reason for returned merchandise, cited by 60 percent of customers, is poor fit, which helps to explain why only seven percent of apparel purchases in the U.S. are made online. Generally speaking, consumers aren't confident about fit unless they try on a garment. When it comes to clothes, they view online shopping as a risk. Many of these concerns can be traced to discrepancies in apparel sizing. A woman could be a size 10 with some brands and a size 12 with others.1
The end result for the retail industry? Lost profits, increased labor and shipping costs, wasted inventory, logistical nightmares, frustrated customers, and a failure to take full advantage of online commerce.
This isn't a new problem. The need for standard sizing in the retail industry began to emerge in the 1920's when assembly line manufacturing created the opportunity to dramatically increase profits through mass production. The federal government started working to create standard sizes for ready-to-wear women's clothing when the National Bureau of Home Economics conducted a study of women's body measurements in 1939 and 1940. After years of research, analysis and reanalysis by several government bodies, the National Bureau of Standards formally published Commercial Standard (CS) 215-58 in 1958.
By the 1960's, retailers were already abandoning these standards. Body types were changing. People were getting taller and heavier. Women were more athletic and no longer wore corsets. CS 215-58 was made voluntary in 1970 and eventually withdrawn in 1983. Sizing discrepancies have widened with the common practice of vanity sizing in which larger garments are labeled with smaller sizes. This is thought to make a woman feel better about herself when she fits into a smaller size. But if she orders the wrong size, how will she feel?
Today, sizing and body measurements are still loosely based on the 1958 standard, but if the same sized garment is a size 6 in one store and a size 10 in another, can you really call it a standard? The problem has become so prevalent that several mobile applications have been created to help shoppers figure out discrepancies in sizing.
New technology can be part of the solution. Sophisticated systems use granular data from apparel manufacturers and designers to aggregate clothing characteristics. This technology can then suggest the right fit and style to each individual consumer based on their preferences and body dimensions. This data is stored and used to assist with future purchases. Body scanning technology and virtual fitting rooms are also being used to show customers how an item will look on them before they make a purchase.
However, even the most advanced technology will not be as effective as it could be if the sizing data being entered into the technology isn't consistent. If apparel e-commerce is ever going to catch up with other sectors, the industry needs to come together and discuss standards and best practices for apparel sizing.
The U.K. began addressing this issue just last week during The Fit Factor, an Association of Suppliers to the British Clothing Industry (ASBCI) Conference. The goal of the conference was to share best practices for taking accurate fit measurements, present intelligence on new sizing strategies and technology, and discuss the need to rethink and reinvent apparel sizing. In the coming months, the ASBCI will be publishing a sizing and fit handbook, which the organization claims will be "the first of its kind in the world to offer comprehensive best practice advice on apparel sizing and fit."2
Standardized sizing can increase sales and average order size, reduce returns and associated costs, improve customer satisfaction, and make customers feel more confident about buying clothes online. It could also simplify sizing conversions between the U.S. and other countries.
RVCF wants to hear what you have to say. Is it time for a review of sizing standards and best practices in the U.S.? What are the obstacles to a standardized system? What needs to happen to overcome these obstacles and move the needle? What role should technology play?
We invite you to visit the forum boards of the Supplier Only Group on the RVCF website, where we've created a discussion about this topic, and share your thoughts and ideas about apparel sizing standards.
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