Home Featured The Future is Bright for e-Commerce Apparel Fit

The Future is Bright for e-Commerce Apparel Fit

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In WhichPLM’s second piece for 2017, and his second exclusive article for us, Mark Charlton continues his discussion surrounding fit in our industry. Here, Mark explores the changing role of the retail associate with regards to fit, and what disruptive technologies will bring to the future of fit.

mark-charltonI have a passion for great fitting apparel and for over 20 years I have been helping brands fit apparel, understand sizing constructs and globalize fit offerings. In my previous article I talked about the components of fit and the thought process to the outcome of “does this fit me”? It’s important to note that when I talk about fit I am not referring to one entity, but rather a convergence of individual body shape, size, ease preference and trend adoption.

Can you remember when you last visited a store and the sales associate provided you with a piece of clothing that was your perfect fit, to your taste, style and made you look amazing without extracting any information from you to do so? Skilled sales associates have what industry has termed “the eye”; with a glance they can size you up, take note of your ease preference, and your adoption of trend (how likely you are to wear the latest trend, and how far to push these on you). Then with the knowledge of what’s in store and how it fits, can provide you with just the right piece(s) that not only fit your body shape and size, but also complement your individual sense of style.

Because of this great service you return time after time and purchase more and more clothing, and over time the sales associate gains deeper knowledge into your closet. This makes their suggestions even more compelling; not only do the clothes fit and look great, they also complete you’re already owned outfits with suggested new outfit configurations: “this new shirt will look amazing with those pants you bought last season.” The associate completes all of this without any information being divulged from you, just a great “eye”, a great memory and detailed knowledge of the assortment offered – a “super sales associate” if you will.

With the growth of apparel e-commerce this individual service is being lost. Most online solutions I have seen that manage “fit” rely on the consumer divulging information, body dimensions, ease preference, and even age to fuel algorithms that predict what size to purchase. There are sites out they that allow you to create a virtual avatar of yourself, and then recreate the fitting room experience virtually. Although these are very successful and result in managing your expectations of what arrives via mail a few days later, by comparison to the “super sales associate” they feel a little intrusive. They also rely on data integrity, posing the question of whether I really want to admit or push into cyber space my actual body dimensions? 

Witnessing some of the disruptive inventions in recent years, most of these utilize machine learning and connectivity (the IoT) to accurately predict behavior and remove the need for customer information up front. To cite an example, take the now well-known smart home device; prior to Nest or Hive, all thermostat devices relied on human direction, complex timed schedules inputted by the user. Nest’s success in particular lies in the knowledge that human behavior is not to control the temperature of the room, but rather for the room to know what temperature you like and control it for you.

Staying with this comparison, I believe most consumers don’t want to control how garments fit them, and instead they want a super sales associate to know what they want and provide the next great piece of apparel that complements their individual style and, at the same time, pushes the latest trend at the right pace for their individual adoption, complementing their closet.

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As a retailer, if I know what my customers purchase, what they wear, what they wear their purchases with, where and when, then do I really need to know their body dimensions? My prediction for “wearable tech” is that apparel will talk to each other and fuel the “super sales assistant” concept. Imagine a world where your jeans know that you are wearing them with that sweater and those sneakers! Your jeans also know they are wearing out and need replacement; they also know what you have been looking at, or influenced by!

This is a game changer for apparel e-commerce. With technology such as RFID and the IoT this world is possible – sooner than some may think. The future is bright for e-commerce apparel fit.

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.