For the last three and a half years we have been deeply involved in the apparel eCommerce space. We have seen it change dramatically in many ways however we have also seen some things stagnate. One of the most positive changes over the last five years has been apparel retailers and brands putting an increased focus on their online user experience. Companies like Nike, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and many others are setting a new standard for how shoppers buy clothes online. Still there are some major issues holding back the online apparel eCommerce:

  1. Return rates still sit at 28% – this is one of the biggest problems that apparel retailers face online. The challenge is that it’s a two-sided problem, it’s not just about recommending a size, it’s about understanding how a specific person likes things to fit. This “fit preference” piece of the puzzle is complex but not insurmountable.
  2. Conversion rates are still low – we’ve seen quite a few different numbers thrown around but it’s safe to say that 3% is actually a pretty good conversion rate for an apparel eCommerce store. The #1 reason why shoppers say they don’t buy clothes online is because of uncertainty around fit.
  3. Size charts are still confusing – your average consumer still has an incredibly hard time decoding size charts. This often has to do with the fact that size charts set the expectation that a consumer knows their chest size, collar, or sleeve which is difficult for most people who are used to wearing a small, medium or large.

Here’s an example of a size chart on the gucci chart for a $2,500 jacket:

Gucci Jacket

Gucci Size Chart

As you can see from the above size chart, the shopper first has to know their chest size, which sure, if you’re buying a $2,500 jacket you probably know. However how will the sleeves fit? Is the waist going to be the right size? None of these questions are answered leaving a shopper to wonder if they’ll buy a jacket that fits great in the chest but nowhere else. Spending $5,000 to buy two different sizes also doesn’t make any sense.

So what does the shopper do in this situation? They typically hit the back button and say, “well next time I’m in a store I’ll have to try it on” which in many cases means they won’t buy.

The apparel eCommerce market is expected to reach $54.2B this year (Source – Internet Retailer) in the US alone and is quickly becoming the top eCommerce market second only to consumer electronics. That being said, apparel is growing faster online and is expected to grow at a rate of 17.2% through 2017.

apparel-ecommerce

(Source – eMarketer)

Since 2010 apparel eCommerce has seen hockey-stick levels of growth however the biggest growth is yet to come. In 2016 only about 15% of consumers are expected to buy clothing online which means the vast majority of people (85%) are buying clothes in physical stores. Digging a bit deeper nearly 40% of consumers buy clothing in-store every week vs. just 27% who do the same online (Source – Business News Daily). What is the reason why online still lags in the apparel space? It all comes down to consumer issues around determining fit and sizing.

We are living in exciting times, but looking at the data it’s clear these are still the early days for apparel eCommerce. The real challenge for retailers is the rapid adoption of mobile devices by consumers and the impact this has on the shopping experience. Couple this with confusion around fit and no real sizing standardization and there’s a lot of room for growth. Retailers that embrace this change are already seeing it pay off.

The big question to ask yourself as a retailer or brand is what are you doing to make it easier for shoppers to understand what fits them? Solving the “fit problem” is top-of-mind for just about everyone that sells clothes online, the question is who can get a solution implemented faster, because those who do will take market-share away from those who don’t.

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