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Fit is a Facet of Consumer Experience

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In his latest post for WhichPLM, fit expert Mark Charlton explores the ever-changing consumer experience around fit. He adds some more requirements to his previously coined role of Chief Fit Officer, and pushes the important of a good fit experience.

I have a passion for great fitting apparel, and for over 30 years I have been helping brands understand sizing constructs and globalize fit offerings. Most of my articles thus far have addressed the complexities of creating, perfecting and executing fit across a diverse and ever changing consumer landscape.

In this article I would like to explore apparel fit as a facet of consumer experience.

Read aloud, “How a product fits is a facet of consumer experience.” Of course it is; we all wear apparel and we all derive an experience from wearing said apparel. Be it good or bad.

Fit is emotional: how a piece of apparel makes you feel when you wear it triggers an emotional response, and how that piece of apparel continues to fit over time layers into this response. I am sure we have all had that perfect item that fitted you perfectly and enhanced your confidence, which then shrunk in the wash and tarnished your experience with the brand. This emotional response is of course individual and apparel fit – how the garment fits to your individual body dimensions, proportions and preferences – is at the core of this individual emotional experience.

How often do brands reach out to understand this experience? How many truly listen and pivot there offerings as a result?

How many chief experience officers are focused on having an understanding of apparel fit as an emotional experience, or know how to improve metrics in this area?

Unfortunately, very few. I came to this realization after attending a retail summit, listening to key note speakers and engaging in round tables. Upon introducing myself, my role, my focus and why I was attending the summit, I was met by blank stares (via the laptop screen as of course this was a remote summit), then comments of, “that’s a niche role”, or “gosh, I never thought of fit being part of the consumer experience”.

Consumer experience roles, in my opinion, have grown as e-commerce has grown and a consistent omni-channel experience has become a focus. Prior to these customer experience roles one could make the case that visual merchandising was the original experience role, creating an atmosphere for customers to experience the product in store in a brand-relevant or brand-enhancing environment.

Looking at most consumer experience roles the focus is mainly the journey to purchase: the in-store experience, the online experience, and the merging of these environments and crossover of these environments (“buy online pick up in store” (BOPIS) for example). Occasionally the post purchase experience is in scope, but this is almost always focused on how easy and ‘frictionless’ the returns process is. I have not heard of one consumer experience role focused on fit as an experience, with perhaps the exception of StitchFix.

Ok, StitchFix has had some difficult quarters based on the street expectations and some C suite turnover, but you cannot deny their previous growth trajectory and the model that is based on a focus of individual fit, be that color fit, style fit, (outfitting), garment to body fit, ease preference fit.

Perhaps another way to look at this would be to break out the attributes of a product – color, fabric, styling, wash, fit, price, quality / construction – then group these into two clusters:

  1. Short term attraction “purchase triggers”
  2. Long term satisfaction “repeat purchase and brand loyalty triggers”

Fit is both a short-term attraction and long-term satisfaction cluster. If you have a positive fit experience with the product you will purchase and return to purchase more of the same fit, perhaps in different colors / prints, different fabrics, or different styling.

It’s not dissimilar to a marriage, with short-term attraction versus long-term compatibility (fit). Or a business, where shiny new offices and remuneration packages are short-term attractions, and alignment with a company’s core values and a mutual value add provides long term satisfaction – often known as ‘company fit’ – that drives loyalty and longevity.

Maybe it’s decades of diverse experience that is helping me form my opinions and connections to apparel fit, that repeating the same model of fitting garments on one singular brand standard and pushing this onto the consumer hoping they are aligned with your brand standards. Or perhaps being married to a Chief Apparel Merchant helps me understand the business of apparel and how important understanding fit at the individual customer level, ensuring the right product in the right size, available at the right time is for your customer and to a sustainable business.

I wrote an article titled Chief Fit Officer a few years ago (a play on the role of CFO), exploring the concept of raising the profile of apparel fit to the C suite and holding one senior leader accountable for all things fit related – not just the traditional technical design roles that commercialize fit, but a role that would be responsible and accountable for fit communication, and fit returns rates across all points of distribution.

I would now add to this role fit experience: create the KPIs, the filters of how to segment the data, then of course be accountable for any fluctuations and actionable next steps to drive a focus on fit as a facet of positive customer experience.

Bringing this back to long-term satisfaction “repeat purchase and brand loyalty triggers”, what brand / retailer is not wanting to improve its loyalty and the number of times a customer returns to repeat purchases?

Understanding fit and the emotion of fit, focusing on this fit experience along the journey to purchase, and beyond, throughout the entire relationship the customer has with your apparel, I believe, is a competitive advantage and will form much more of a partnership with your consumers compared to a transitional relationship. Chief experience officers, I welcome your thoughts and comments.

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.