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Chapter II: The "Sizing Recommendation"​ - The biggest misconceptions about apparel sizing

Aktualisiert: 6. Feb. 2020

“The sizing info in our web shop helps consumers to make the right decision.”

Quick read: Static or dynamic sizing information in your online shop will make customers more confident in their purchasing behaviour. Make sure to double check with technically trained staff whether the information and/or sketches are accurate and comprehensible for consumers.

Correct sizing decision made: yes and no. Sizing information certainly help consumers to feel more comfortable to make a decision but certainly do not always end up in the correct decision for the size.

We need to differentiate between static and dynamic sizing information. The two main sources of static sizing information in web shops today are body measurement charts translated into existing sizing systems or actual measurements of the garment (mostly for one size only).

Let’s start with the static body measurement charts. As an online shopper you’re left with numbers given in inch or cm and it’s up to you comparing this to your actual body. Easy you think? Well, have you ever measured yourself before an online purchase? Do you even own a measurement tape? Even if you could answer both questions with yes, specialists will argue that the average consumer is unable to measure him or herself as this requires professional expertise and needs to be done by a second person. For everybody who starts googling now the sketches and explanations that some retailers use online: ask a dressmaker or patternmaker how useful these really are. Some of these sketches are misleading if not plain wrong. And you’ll be even more surprised. Against the believe that there would be one clear and universal way of measuring – there is not. In fact the 3D body scanning industry struggled with this because measurements between providers were not comparable. Just as an example: there is the so called “shoulder width measurement” which determines the width from end of shoulder to end of other shoulder. It is most commonly used for men’s suits but also other product groups.

Let 10 dressmakers or pattern makers measure it at one single person and you’ll get 10 different results. In some cases maybe just a couple of millimetres but still – there is no concrete way of measuring it. It’s more of a subjective agreement of the nature of this point of measure. And for most of measurements that’s sufficient. A waist width will always be measured at the smallest circumference, so deviations will be minor. But measuring the arm length can lead to heavy discussions between experts. Why this didn’t come up earlier? Well, as long as the measuring person is also the one working on the fit the point of measure is translated into product fit accordingly. The struggle starts when untrained consumers are supposed to measure it and compare it to experts measuring results.

“Well, if that doesn’t work then the garment measurements should, right?”. In several shops you’ll find information on some key points of measure. For a long time I was wondering how this is helping anybody. What do you even make of the information that the inseam length of a pair of pants is 70cm? You would start to measure that in the crotch of the pants but how do you know how low or high the crotch is positioned? That can vary up to 3cm in usual cases and plays a major role in making you that cool-kit showing off your nude ankles – or not.

Still consumers are more likely to purchase the product with these trivial information. I started to understand the reason for this after working for Europe’s biggest online fashion retailer that pushed the agenda of sizing recommendation from a really early stage. Customers felt more comfortable purchasing an item simply by having the sizing information at hand. To be fair, there is still a tiny number of customers who actually measure themselves and/or take the time and write an e-mail to a brand asking regarding the sizing specifics. But I’m afraid with more convenient delivery and return policies for online shoppers, people will just order without putting in any more effort than necessary.

The dynamic approach is taken by online tools that promise to help the customer making the right decision regarding their size on article level. Sizing recommendation tools are available for a couple of years now and there are key players on the market serving the big brands. There are different approaches that show different results. One KPI however strikes 10's across the board for all of them: the conversion rate. Disappointed? You might ask: “Shouldn’t that be the return rate first of all?”. Well, returns are also affected but for some tools on a very small scale. The truth behind the return rate being affected so little for some of them is that yes, the algorithms predict and help undecided customers quite well. But there suddenly appears another customer group which has higher expectations in fit after using the tool and that leaves some of them returning items for minor reasons. Better results are shown with tools that take the customers body measurements and the garment measurements into account. The customer is asked to take a full body selfie and garments are measured upfront in each size before they go online. The calculations behind that technology is packed with tons of data and it took a while to enter the market. More and more providers pop up and time will show if customers feel comfortable taking these selfies. Anyway the consumer who feels supported by an easy to handle technology is more likely to place the order than a consumer having to trust his or her guts.


Read other articles of this series here:

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