High return rates have long been a major pain point for online fashion retailers, and fit-related returns cost companies millions in lost revenue, shipping and processing costs and threaten their long-term profitability. In this interview, Stuart Simms, CEO of Fits Me, talks to Euromonitor International about how the fashion industry is evolving from the era of mass fashion into the age of “me fashion” and how technology can solve the fit problem for both retailers and consumers.
How would you best describe Fits Me and what is unique about it?
Fits Me’s key objective is to help fashion brands to understand the choices and fit profile of their customers and let them tailor a shopping experience more accurately. When I first got involved with Fits Me back in 2014, we made a transition from positioning ourselves as a virtual fitting room company to a data acquisition and analytics company that uses data acquired at scale to help inform brands and retailers about the products and services they should be offering to consumers. A personalised recommendation gives shoppers confidence that the clothes they buy online will fit and flatter their body shapes, which results in increased conversion rates, net increases in basket size and transactional value and fewer returns.
Source: Fits Me
Could you give a bit of background about how Fits Me started and key milestones for the company since its inception?
Fits Me was founded in 2010 by Paul Pällin and Heikki Haldre, with an initial objective to allow tailors in the Far East to serve the European market with bespoke clothing by using shape-shifting robots. Since then, the company has gone on to deliver the world’s first virtual fitting room and visualisation tool and received three rounds of funding during 2010-2014. In 2014, Fits Me acquired ClothesHorse, a company specialising in the automation of garment data acquisition and insights. 2015 was a pivotal year for Fits Me as it became part of Rakuten Group, one of the world’s largest technology and e-commerce businesses, with global marketplaces and technology businesses (including buy.com, priceminister, ebates and viber).
What role has Rakuten played in Fits Me’s growth since the 2015 acquisition?
After the acquisition by Rakuten, our strategy did not change but our ability to execute it did; being part of such a large group greatly accelerated our ability to deliver against our strategy. We were looking for a partner with huge amounts of scale in terms of consumer and merchant reach, and Rakuten gave us that punch. As we saw that data was going to become a key part of how retailers were going to deliver a more personalised service to consumers, we wanted to develop a consistent data platform and data model that would allow us to deliver compelling insights.
From a consumer perspective, the biggest challenge with sizing and fit is that it is not universal and each brand size chart varies considerably from the next. How can technology help consumers to become more confident with shopping online?
The long-term challenge for fashion technology is to remove the need to know your size and enable consumers to have a more informative way of finding clothing that makes them look and feel great. We want consumers to make more informed, confident decisions; I think a revolution needs to happen in the industry where consumers are a lot more comfortable with shopping based on their specific body shapes rather than shopping based on size. Currently, the concept of “size” remains, but consumers find it increasingly frustrating due to sizing inconsistency, and there is increasing pressure on retailers to offer a “fit filter” and help consumers answer the basic question “will it fit?”.
What are the average return rates in online fashion and what do these depend on?
Returns are a pain point for all channels, not just online; it is a problem retailers are facing across the board. Most fashion retailers have average return rates of 15-20%, of which around 80% are fit based. For some retailers, this figure can climb up to even 50-70%, depending on garment type. It depends on which geographies or regions the retailer is trying to address: is it in the process of acquiring new consumers or is it quite an entrenched existing brand? Our tool should be considered if a retailer is planning to go to international markets that it has not addressed before and/or if it is trying to acquire consumers through different marketing channels it previously has not pushed into.
How does Fits Me technology work and how are you planning to develop it further in the next few years?
One of our core aspirations is to empower the data-driven retailer. Retailers have this abundance of data but they are often not making use of it to develop better products and services. This is why we recently launched Fashion IQ, our insights tool, which allows brands and retailers to have deep insight and to understand consumers more effectively, which is becoming crucial to fashion brands’ product development and product lifecycle. Using this, consumer insights will help to drive a better search experience, enabling consumers to find clothing that they love quicker, faster and better than ever before. The results for retailers are reduced inventories, reduced discounting and the provision of more personalised, engaged experiences to the consumer.
What are your predictions for the future? What steps will fashion brands and retailers need to take to thrive in the digital marketplace?
Nowadays, we live in a very different world, where social media, cloud networks and open sourcing empower customer-centric movements and are having a profound effect on how companies develop their products across all industries. The same is bound to happen in the fashion space, where previously unknown designers will be able to get access to groups of new consumers and design clothing that is highly personalised and tailored to specific clusters. Brands will offer a much more personalised experience to consumers than ever before, not only in terms of online experience but also around more tailored, customised clothing that allows consumers to express themselves more and on a sustained basis. Therefore, future success rests upon the successful transformation from mass fashion to me fashion and we firmly believe that the cycle from tailored to mass market is going to go back to tailored again.