Returns Prevention: Unnecessary AI, Big Labels And Fit Analytics
by Laura Gee
With fashion return rates upwards of 20-30% and an estimated cost of £60 billion, it’s not surprising many retailers are now in the game of trying to reduce their returns. Whilst we’re firm believers that returns can be an opportunity for retailers to sell more globally by offering a strong returns proposition, we can’t deny that the existing state of the fashion industry is unsustainable. As such, we’ve scoured the internet to uncover some of the tactics being used by retailers to reduce their return rates. From obnoxiously large clothing tags to high tech app developments, we take a deep dive into some returns preventions tactics to answer one burning question: do they work?
The Fyre Festival Of The Fashion World
Poorly fitting clothing is one of the fashion industry’s biggest problems. We know that 61% of returns are size related, so removing this bottleneck would certainly help reduce returns. If you’re one of those people who loves tech, then the ZOZO suit should be right up your street. But is the ZOZO suit the future of fit? Here’s what they claim:
“Say goodbye to standard sizes and hello to custom-fit clothes. Our free ZOZOSUIT lets you capture a 3D measurement of your unique body from home. Once you’ve measured, you can order affordable ZOZO clothing that is made according to your unique measurements and delivered direct to your door.”
It sounds too good to be true: a free body suit and app that provide you with custom made clothes at an affordable price, guaranteed to fit. It’s safe to say that we were sceptical when we ordered one. Whilst the whole notion seemed a bit ‘gimmicky’ and the actual process of capturing the body image was awkwardly comical, we can’t deny that the app did a great job at capturing a 3D body image with accurate body measurements.
Photo caption: ZOZO Suit modelled by our Marketing Director, Charlotte
ZOZO claim that their clothing is “made according to your unique measurements”, so we can forgive the fact that it took 8 weeks for the order to be delivered. However, when it came to the actual products they sell, ZOZO clearly got it wrong. Firstly, ZOZO’s clothing range is basic and bland. Who really wants to pay for a tailor made plain white t-shirt? Secondly, and unforgivably, the t-shirt was baggy and unflattering and the jeans were far too short which was especially surprising considering our 5ft 3 model. The quality was good but the fit was poor, so the whole concept fell on it’s head and the order needed to be returned anyway.
The body suit and app held great potential for users to track body changes and understand their measurements, but unless retailers are prepared to standardise sizing and share data, being able to buy from a single retailer with a limited product range doesn’t justify the process of donning dotty spandex.
Tailored browsing, not tailored clothing.
We’ve seen digital fit technology cropping up more and more on retailers sites in an attempt to help shoppers find the right size first time, and curb those ever increasing return rates. The most impressive fit analytics tool we’ve seen is used by ASOS, which incorporates more than just a survey detailing your age, weight and having a tape measure handy. ASOS’ unique approach actually factors returns data into the purchase journey, matching the profile of previous orders to show shoppers the propensity for individual products return rates to recommend sizes to shoppers.
The screen capture reads: “this recommendation is based on the size that people like you bought and whether they returned it. Based on the purchases of thousands of similar shoppers, there is a 60% chance that you will be happy with size UK 14”
Whilst this neat online tool is a smart way to influence shoppers baskets, in this instance, with only a 60% chance of the skirt fitting, i’d order both sizes anyway, then in theory you’re guaranteed to have one that fits, right? Maybe displaying these stats up-front is counter-intuitive...We’d have to drill down into the data to investigate how many shoppers continue to order multiple sizes to cover all bases despite this insight from the fit assistant.
The problem with most fit analytics tools is that they don’t take into account how weight distributes across different body types. With this in mind we were disappointed to hear that ZOZO are ceasing to manufacture their body suits this year on the grounds that they now have enough data to produce clothes that fit just by knowing your height and weight, just like any other fit analytics tool. ZOZO CEO, Yusaku Maezawa, states “We’re at a stage where if we just know your height and weight, we can estimate the ideal clothes for you, you will no longer need a ZOZOsuit at all.” So despite ZOZO’s challenges, they scrapped their USP before it ever really got off the ground.
Fraud Prevention Tags
Handcuffs for your clothes
Unlike tools to prevent fit-related returns, special clothing tags can serve as a solution for a more niche return challenge: wardrobing. Whilst some retailers opt for a larger sized tag that makes it awkward and uncomfortable for a shopper to wear the item with the label tucked in, others go as far as stringing large ribbons through the entire garment to prevent fraudulent returns. These special labels are usually emblazoned with a message like “I can’t be returned if you remove this label”.
These clothing tags serve a greater purpose than simply detailing the price. We bought a few items from Zalando, Pretty Little Thing, House of CB and House of Fraser to discover how effective their tagging methods are.
The chances of wardrobing anything from Zalando is slim. The enormous 10cm x 15cm label was placed right on the front of the dress, with nowhere for those fraudulent returners to hide it whilst they wear the item. It does the job well, but to an honest shopper it seems overkill. House of Fraser also opted for the large label with a rigid plastic security loop, although the placement of the tag meant that shoppers who are determined to get that insta photo without actually paying £200 for a dress could tuck the label in and put on a smile.
The likes of Pretty Little Thing and House of CB both opt for a slightly different approach of stringing ribbons through their clothing. Aside from the fact that these make the item annoying to try on (especially sleeved items where your arm ends up glued to your sides), it’s an effective wardrobing prevention tactic, but a quick scan of twitter shows a bunch of disgruntled shoppers complaining about the inconvenience of the security ribbon.
Whilst some are certainly over the top, the fraud prevention tags we’ve seen so far seem to be effective. If reducing wardobing is the aim of the game than this may just be the solution. One question we have is: are they worth it? Is the cost of producing these labels larger than the financial impact of wardrobing? Our recent study into the fraudulent returns space revealed that 5.2% of shoppers have admitted to wardrobing more than once in the last 18 months. We see the appeal for high-end fashion and evening wear retailers where wardrobing may be more of a concern but for fast-fashion retailers with lower basket values, we have to question whether it’s worth the additional cost.
Try but never buy?
The more technologically advanced solutions emerging in the market are augmented reality apps which create a virtual fitting room. You’ve probably seen those AR headsets that give you an immersive gaming experience. Well now it seems that augmented reality has spread to the retail industry. By using mobile apps such as Wanna Kicks, shoppers can ‘try on’ footwear from the comfort of their own
home, allowing them to see what the shoes look like.
There’s no denying it’s a cool concept, and with ‘Wanna Nails’ and ‘ Wanna Jewellery’ alr
eady on the market, it’s only a matter of time before this concept expands to more clothing. However, virtually trying on a dress is much tougher than posing for a selfie with a snapchat filter. Just think of the challenges matching dynamic sizing to hundreds of different body types. Trying on clothing involves more than just how it looks in position. You can’t augment the feeling of pushing your arm through the sleeve of a shirt cuff, reaching behind your shoulder blades to fumble for a zip or the neck of a jumper feeling too tight. AR has no application in reducing returns due to size, fit, comfort or quality. It may help alleviate returns caused by the style not suiting the shopper and could perhaps prove useful in better understanding specifics like skirt length which is often hard to explain in product descriptions.
However, this technology concept has fad written all over it in my opinion and will attract more users to simply play around with the app without actually converting into a purchase. So I guess you could say it may reduce returns, but the aim of the game isn’t to reduce orders too!
If reducing returns is the aim of the game, we don’t think the winning solution exists just yet. While at face value the fraud prevention tags seem like an effective way to tackle wardrobing, the frustration from honest shoppers who are unable to properly try on a garment may well damage customer satisfaction levels. Overall, it’s a relatively new space and I expect this won’t be the last of us trying and testing return reduction tactics as they emerge. Have you implemented any return reduction strategies, either with or without success? We’d love to hear about it!