Nothing gets retail executives reaching for the Tums quite like bracketing, when online shoppers order a size up and down from what they think will fit them to be sure they get the right size—then return the other two (or more). The stomach acids really roil for retailers who offer free returns, because they could lose money on the transaction if they sell an item while assuming the cost of processing, which can cost up to $20 per return—not including freight, according to the Wall Street Journal.
And it gets worse: When products get returned, they often are no longer considered new and are sold as used, “open box,” or “refurbished.” Worse, many retailers throw away more than 25% of their returns, Tobin Moore, CEO of Optoro, told CNBC in 2019.
But some relief may come from the burgeoning fit-tech industry, whose tools determine consumers’ exact dimensions and use AI technology to suggest what size to order for specific garments. Fit-tech executives say their tools could get retailers closer to the state that classic rockers Kansas sang about in the ’70s: the point of no return.
Let fit be: Haniff Brown is the founder and CEO of Fit:match, a 5-year-old company whose platform enables apparel brands to capture a 3D model of shoppers and then pinpoint specific items of clothing in specific sizes that will fit them.
For starters, Brown revealed that the technology helps curb returns generally. Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty stores have partnered with Fit:match and installed devices in fitting rooms that scan shoppers’ exact measurements, and determine what size will fit based on those dimensions:
The platform may wean consumers off of bracketing, which is not an ideal solution for consumers either, since it requires shipping items back, perhaps schlepping parcels to the post office or another shipper.
“What the technology does,” Brown told Retail Brew, is give “consumers the confidence to say, ‘Hey, don’t bracket; don’t buy four. Here’s your size—buy this one.’”
Size matters: Volumental, which makes an in-store 3D foot scanner that this reporter measured his two—who knew?—differently sized feet in March, also makes a mobile version of the measuring tool that consumers can use for online shopping.
Other fit-tech companies also claim that their tools reduce returns, although those claims vary widely.
Fits and starts: While fit-tech companies use their potential to reduce returns as a selling point, that’s not what they usually lead with for their sales pitches. Rather, what the companies see as an equal or greater value for their tools is the potential to increase online sales, or in retail-trade parlance, to improve the conversion rate, meaning the instances of visitors to an online store buying something.
“In addition to lowering returns, I’d be remiss in not pointing out what is an equally important metric...conversion rates,” Hollowell told Retail Brew in a LinkedIn message. “Online conversion rates are three to seven times higher for shoppers who scan their feet with their mobile phones versus those who have not scanned. It sounds almost too good to be true, but the data is accurate.”
“Where I see fit technology playing long term is that you need a solution that can boost conversions,” Brown said, “but also reduce returns simultaneously.”