As people have become taller and heavier, brands have altered their sizing metrics to make consumers feel smaller and skinnier. In fact, they made this shift so significantly that The Washington Post found a size 8 dress today to be nearly the equivalent of a size 16 in 1958. Adding to the confusion, the current waistband measurement of a pair of size 6 women’s jeans can vary by more than 5 inches, depending on the brand. Fascinatingly, even men’s jeans — which are labeled in actual inches — also experience this phenomenon. For example, after trying on numerous pairs, an Esquire reporter found that an Old Navy men’s 36 actually has a 41-inch circumference!
As Eliana Dockterman states in Time magazine, the rise of vanity sizing has rendered most labels meaningless: “Insanity sizing, as some have dubbed this trend, is frustrating enough for shoppers who try on clothes in stores. But now that $240 billion worth of apparel is purchased online each year, it has become a source of epic wastefulness. Customers return an estimated 40% of what they buy online, mostly because of sizing issues. That’s a hassle for shoppers and a costly nightmare for retailers.”
E-commerce merchants including Amazon, H&M, Nordstrom and numerous others try to address the issue by urging their customers to rate the items they purchase — in particular, asking them to note if clothing fits true to size, runs small or runs large. Many consumers also try to help each other out by sharing comments describing the fit and feel of items. Still, purchases frequently fall short of expectations.
Meanwhile, about half of today’s clothing consumers use a practice known as bracketing to find the right fit when shopping online. This involves buying multiple sizes of the same item, trying them on at home and returning what doesn’t work out.
This week, Walmart — the largest store-based retailer in the United States — announced that it’s working on a better approach. The retail giant acquired Israel-based Zeekit, a female-founded startup whose technology enables consumers to try on clothing virtually before purchase. Shoppers first upload pictures of themselves or choose a model who best fits their body type. Then, the solution shows them how an item will really look on them.
Walmart is clearly looking to e-commerce as another way to fuel growth. And offering effective virtual try-on solutions has a shot at curtailing some of the squandered time and resources related to returns. In fact, Zeekit claims its technology reduces returns by 10%.
Another win for Walmart is all the data that will come from this solution. The organization can use this information to identify consumers’ clothing preferences, inform future brand decisions and determine which types of shoppers gravitate toward which designs. Tony Sciarrotta, executive director of the Reverse Logistics Association, says technology like Zeekit’s could be a “Holy Grail” for the pursuit of meeting customer expectations and eliminating countless returns.
As with any technology, Zeekit has its limitations: The exact color of an item or texture of its material will still be extremely challenging to convey online. And some consumers will not be tech-savvy enough to apply such a feature. Others may use it for entertainment rather than to make an actual purchase. Zeekit also may feel a bit luxurious for Walmart’s bargain image, perhaps being better suited to high-end brands. Nonetheless, the company certainly has enough retail volume to justify investments in virtual fitting rooms.
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