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Could Fit be the Answer to Consumer Loyalty?

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In his second exclusive for this year, WhichPLM’s fit expert, Mark Charlton, discusses how fit could be the answer to consumer loyalty.

Apparel fit is a competitive advantage. As a consumer you know a great fit when you find one and, providing the brand remains consistent and evolves the fit at the same pace as your desire to follow fashion, you will continue to purchase …resulting in consumer loyalty – otherwise known as the holy grail of retail.

So, could fit be the answer to consumer loyalty? Let’s decode that.

First, you would find the fit that suits you, and then the brand / retailer would have to evolve this fit at the same pace you (as an individual) adopt trend. Much easier said than done.

Here are a few facts we know to be true:

  • Fit is a competitive advantage and a trigger for consumer loyalty.
  • Fit is a pain point for most consumers. Just note how many garments travel into a fitting room and how many are converted into purchases, or research the apparel e-commerce return rates (currently over 50%).
  • The population in any one region is always changing. Global homogenization coupled with the obesity epidemic and global fitness trends is resulting in a larger, more diverse range of people, sizes and proportions. Thus, Apparel fit is getting harder.
  • The retail landscape is global, yet your consumer local. This means influences are no longer regional. Instagram, after all, is global! Social media means consumers are globally connected and influenced, but shopping locally. Most global branded e-commerce sites are regionally operated, with potentially different product offerings and in some cases different sizes / size constructs by country.
  • Sizing constructs (the range of sizes offered by a brand or retailer) have become more confusing over time. A size ‘Small’ in one brand is different to a ‘Small’ in another. There are even no standards over sizes such as 32” waist or 15” collar, directly related to measurements!
  • The naming convention of sizes, (S,M,L; 2-4-6-8; 32,34,36) have failed to evolve. Brands and retailers have evolved their fit proposition and incremental difference between sizes, however the sizes themselves have remained unchanged.  To use an analogy, this is like a unit of measure changing: 12 fluid ounces is no longer 12 fluid ounces, it’s no longer 355 milliliters; a gallon of fuel is no longer a gallon of fuel!
  • The plus size industry is a growing market linked, I believe, to a broken or incorrectly evolved sizing construct. The term ‘plus size’ offends me. This should be an evolution of a sizing construct versus an addition to an incorrectly evolved, out of date current construct.

Now let’s look at the brief journey of a global brand / retailer’s evolution of its fit proposition.

A company starts making apparel for its home country, researches it’s consumer base, target demographic and competitor landscape. Then, creates a fit proposition and sizing construct to cater for this targeted consumer, demographic and competes against its local competitors. As the brand grows its consumer base grows and market share increases into other consumer bases and demographics, making apparel fit more of a compromise and less targeted.

No longer is the brand niche, but more mass market.

Then, the brand starts to expand into other markets in other countries with a different competitive landscape, and in most cases with different sizing propositions. The brand / retailer then has a choice: remain true to its routes and run the risk of being irrelevant in that country; or change to become more relevant and offer a different fit proposition for a different country (known as regional fit). This is why, if you travel the global and buy a size ‘Small’ of the same brand in Asia, Europe and North America each will be different.

Now of course in any one region we are surrounded by global brands of different origins with different sizing propositions and constructs – some trying to remain true to their routes (Zara and Mango of Spanish routes with a Iberian fit proposition, for example), or global brands like Nike offering a different fit in the western region than the Asian region. This has created a sea of confusion for the consumer.

I believe there is an opportunity to look at the fit and sizing proposition globally.
What are the body shapes and proportions you, as a brand, are catering to across the globe? What is the size spread across the globe? Then, re-cluster these shapes and sizes globally. This could mean a different sizing construct, be-it consumer facing or a behind-the-scenes matrix that is regionally recoded to regional sizing expectations.

By global fit I do not mean one single fit across the globe, but more of a global construct catering for different body proportions, shapes and sizes managed globally and distributed regionally. Because, as stated above, the regional landscape is more multi-culturally diverse than ever before.

The solution is to understand the diversity that exists globally, how this shows up regionally and cater for this diversity with a global construct deployed regionally, with a sizing construct that is intuitive and consistent.

Mark Charlton With more than 20 years’ experience in the apparel industry, Mark Charlton is a technical leader who has worked with manufacturers, trading companies, direct-to-consumer retailers,omni-channel national and global brands. His key focus is product groups from M2M tailoring to lingerie and everything in-between. He has an uncompromising approach to understanding the complexities of apparel fit, both on a consumer and global level. Additionally, Mark has a proven record of driving and implementing organizational and process change from corporate teams throughout the global supply chain.