There are few things more universal in wardrobes the world over than blue jeans. But they are also the number one item that is returned by online shoppers, says Rian Buckley, founder and CEO of Fitcode.
“Fit is the number one purchase driver and reason to return,” she says.
For many of us, the idea that size is a poor indicator of how an item of clothing will fit is not new. Yet, at least for the time being, retailers and brands continue to market clothing using the current sizing system. Buckley experienced this problem firsthand during her career as a model.
Even though models must conform to a specific body type and size, she still saw that clothes fit differently on each woman. “They had to be clipped and pinned into place to make them fit,” Buckley says. “They’re designed all for one body shape and [designers] are expecting to fit across the entire customer base of body shapes.”
There had to be a better approach to fit, she thought, and in, 2014, founded Fitcode, which uses analytics and artificial intelligence software to determine which brands (and the sizes within those brands) fit each user the best.
“We need to get people in the right product the first time,” Buckley says. She decided that jeans would be the first priority for Fitcode since it’s an item that nearly everyone wears and one that often is hard to find the right fit for.
For retailers and brands, Fitcode’s service could be attractive because it could help prevent unnecessary returns, which are costly. As online shopping gets more popular, the number of returns increase—especially as long as returns are free. Being able to easily return something that doesn’t quite work, makes it easier for many shoppers to hit buy on their computers.
To that end, Americans returned more than $260 billion in goods each year, according to Optoro, a retail industry logistics company, according to a MarketWatch article. About 80 percent of the customers who returned items were sending back clothing and accessories, the article stated.
A recent study from Brightpearl, an e-commerce software firm, reported that as many as 40 percent of retailers have seen an increase in intentional returns in the past year and another 44 percent agree that their margins are being strongly impacted by handling and packaging those returns. Intentional returns are those that come about when a shopper, say, orders a blouse in three different sizes because she isn’t sure which one will fit best. Brightpearl, which has offices in Bristol, England, and Austin, says the survey reflects opinions of shoppers in both the US and the UK.
Customers want free shipping and returns when they order online. And e-commerce startups are looking to leverage tech tools like analytics to enable shoppers to make more precise orders—ones that might reduce the number of items a person initially orders—to help retailers reduce the volume of returns.
In addition to Fitcode, other e-commerce startups are using innovations in analytics, sensors, and imaging to connect shoppers with the clothing they want the most. True Fit, which is based in Boston, raised a Series C investment of $55 million in January to further develop what the startup calls “a genome for apparel and footwear” that not only focuses on fit, but style elements as well. Israel-based LikeAGlove has developed smart leggings that measure a person’s figure and then can recommend specific styles and brands of pants for that person.
Fitcode works like this: A shopper takes an online quiz on Fitcode’s website, which asks about body shape, including characterizations of thighs, butt, and legs—such as lean, curvy, athletic—the jeans size you typically wear, and your age. The website uses the data to give you your Fitcode, and uses that Fitcode to recommend pairs of jeans from the brands that the analysis says fits best.
My Fitcode suggested jeans from Joe’s Jeans and Silver Jeans. After putting in my preferences on rise height and denim wash, I was able to zero in to around four pairs that I liked best. (Fitcode sent me one of those jeans, by Silver, which did fit perfectly, except for being too long. I’m just five-feet tall, so that didn’t surprise me at all.)
Would I have been able to find this pair of Silver jeans on my own? Maybe. But going through the Fitcode did make the process easier.
Fitcode’s customers include retailers like Nordstrom and brands like Levi’s, 7 for All Mankind, and Kut from the Kloth. They pay the Kirkland, WA-based startup a licensing fee and a small percentage of each sale that Fitcode helps broker. Buckley says Fitcode, which raised $3.2 million in a Series A round of funding in late 2015, has about 300,000 unique users and 10 employees.
In addition to reducing the costs of unneeded returns, Buckley says Fitcode can also provide valuable market intelligence to retailers and brands. “It can come down to: ‘If I increase the rise half an inch, it will fit 70 percent more” prospective customers, she says.