With eCommerce playing an ever larger role in fashion retail, ill-fitting online returns threaten to eat more and more into profits.
Companies like Body Metrics, Perfitly, Volumental and FIT:MATCH are attempting to solve this issue. Though their methods differ, their goal is the same: ensure online shoppers buy the best-fitting item—and only the best-fitting item—on the first try.
“What [shoppers] end up doing is ordering like three sizes of the same thing and returning all of it or all of it but one and this is just senseless destruction of resources,” Volumental CEO Alper Aydemir said. “It just doesn’t make business sense. Why would we, in this day and age—why wouldn’t we be able to just directly ship you the thing that’s going to fit you?”
The issue has become particularly pertinent as the economy tightens and businesses look to cut costs, Aydemir added. “The name of the game is no longer acquire customers at any cost,” he said, but profitability. “Making a dent in returns goes a long way” toward that goal, he noted.
The latest market research suggests fashion brands are indeed investing in sizing technology. A December report from Fortune Business Insights estimated the virtual fitting room market reached $4.03 billion last year, up from $3.42 billion a year earlier. The market research company projected the niche industry will grow at a compound annual rate of 20.5 percent through 2029 to reach $14.87 billion.
Bold Metrics, a six-year-old company with clients like Canada Goose, Vuori and Men’s Wearhouse, has seen this increased interest on the ground, with co-founder and CEO Daina Burnes reporting a steady “uptick” in demand.
“More consumers are using digital channels to meet their consumption needs and buy their products,” Burnes said. “That’s definitely not going away and it’s good to see that retailers and brands are starting to realize the importance of having solutions in place for fit and sizing.”
Still, “a lot of work” remains before mass adoption occurs across a majority of retail and brand sites, she noted. A big part of industry buy-in is tied to consumer adoption, she said. With this in mind, Bold Metrics has built its technology around creating a system that achieves high adoption and engagement rates with consumers.
“Basically, it needs to be super easy, dead easy, for the consumer to interact with,” Burnes said. “It doesn’t require the consumer to stop what they’re doing and take some action that’s outside of their regular shopping path.”
To this end, Bold Metrics’ solutions only require consumers answer a few basic questions—their gender, height, weight, shoe size and body shape, for example. Once a shopper has filled out the questionnaire, Bold Metrics’ artificial intelligence- and machine learning-powered technology can generate a body model, recommend the ideal size and offer details on how the garment would fit across “critical points of measure,” Burnes said.
Bold Metrics has collected more than 67 million “AI body models” so far, Burnes said. The company claims to, on average, increase conversion rates by 20 percent and reduce return rates by 32 percent. Since the technology relies on machine learning, Burnes noted, the longer a client partners with Bold Metrics, the more its algorithm improves.
Though Body Metrics is focusing its efforts on size recommendations today, it sees a future where fit can be utilized upstream within an organization. “There’s important technical design insights that could be gleaned from capturing consumer body measurements, Burnes said.
“The apparel industry… doesn’t have a realistic and scalable way to capture the body measurements of their customers outside of installing body scanners in stores, which, of course, is not a truly scalable methodology,” Burnes added. “It’s not realistic and so really with our technology and generating these AI body models, it’s really the first time to essentially have this feedback loop.”
Other companies, however, are offering brands scan-based solutions to sizing. In many cases, though, they aren’t using in-store scanning machines, but everyday smart phones and tablets.
“Those things used to be highly inaccurate,” said Raghav Sharma, the co-founder of Perfitly, a fit tech company that started out with questionnaires but since has expanded to body scans. “Ten years ago, forget about it, right? You would need a laser scanning booth to create an avatar of a consumer. But what happened is once the iPhone 10 came out, the cameras in smartphones caught up enough that you had enough accuracy. And those cameras have just gotten better and better and better.”
Today, Perfitly offers both survey- and scan-based solutions. Where the former offers 92 percent accuracy, the latter has reached 97 percent, Sharma said. In both cases, Perfitly uses a shopper’s dimensions to generate a size recommendation, as well as a digital avatar wearing the specific garment. Users can size up or down to view looser and tighter fits. According to Sharma, Perfitly has helped brands grow their conversion rates by 80 percent. In one case, he noted, the company dropped a brand’s return rate down to 3 percent.
“We’ve certainly seen, as the photo app rolls out, that the return rates reduce because you just have gotten more accurate,” he added. “Every millimeter counts when you’re trying something on. My wife tried on something this weekend. Looked perfect, except that there’s a slight thing on the hip and we looked at it and we’re like ‘Eh, it throws the whole garment off.’ So, the closer you can get to reality, the better.”
FIT:MATCH is similarly taking advantage of advancements in smart phones. Hillary Littleton, the head of marketing at the Savage X Fenty-allied company, pointed to the addition of LiDAR—essentially 3D laser scanning—on the iPhone 12 Pro as the key innovation for FIT:MATCH.
There are “tools that can use a user’s photo or their video and they then match the circumference that’s taken in those photos or videos to the garment,” Littleton said. “What our chief data scientist, Jie Pei—who got her Master’s and PhD at Cornell, who actually has licensed the patents for us—found is that there’s still guesswork involved. You’re not actually measuring tissue density, volume, proportions, any of those really crucial items to actually guarantee the best fit.”
Customers can scan themselves with FIT:MATCH in-stores at select locations or at home with a LiDAR-equipped phone. For now, iPhone only offers the technology on its Pro and Pro Max models, while Samsung has dropped LiDAR from its newer releases. Since LiDAR sensors are typically placed on the back of the phone, users rely on audio cues to instruct them on how and where to move the phone. Once the scan is complete, the tool generates a body shape avatar that shoppers can use to see how different garments and sizes fit on their body.
In stores, meanwhile, FIT:MATCH has partnered with Intel to integrate LiDAR sensors into fitting rooms that will scan shoppers in a matter of seconds. Users must wear an unlined bra on top and leggings or something else form fitting on the bottom, Littleton noted. Though these rooms are only available at a single Savage X Fenty store in Atlanta, FIT:MATCH plans to roll them out to other locations this year.
The future of fit tech
After years of in-store scans—more than 40 million so far—Volumental plans to introduce a mobile version of its foot fit technology this year. With the launch imminent, Aydemir said, the “big, research-y problems and technology” have been solved. Now, rather, the major limitation is simply adoption and awareness.
Coming out of the pandemic, Sharma said, Perfitly saw demand grow by at least four to 5x, with a lot of interest coming from Europe in particular. Translating that interest into partnerships, however, remains anongoing project.
“It still takes a long time to get a brand to understand what it is,” he said. “I mean, on the face of it, it seems really simple, but once you get into the technical details of what they need to provide, how it would work with the consumer, things tend to slow down.”
Looking beyond the immediate goals of raising awareness and educating brands, both Volumental and Perfitly hope to enable consumers to use their fit data beyond a single store or shopping experience.
“The endgame for Volumental, the way I see it, is that everybody at some point in time will have their fit profile and you will be able to use that wherever you shop, whether online or offline and you will be in control of who you share that with or who you revoke access to,” Aydemir said.
Though Sharma is seeing different companies push fit technology in different directions—whether that’s with more advanced online tools or smart mirror-style devices in store—the Perfitly co-founder believes the future will be an integrated platform that delivers all these experiences, whether in-store, online or even in the metaverse.