Retailers Turn to Analytics, 3D Tech to Promote Fit, Reduce Returns

Xconomy National — 

One size fits most (at best), and a women’s sizing system created during the Depression doesn’t gibe in an e-commerce business that prizes personalization.

That’s why startups are turning to new technologies like 3D scanning and machine learning software to produce customized clothing that can be made for the masses.

“People want to buy a size,” says Patrick Donnelly, director of marketing at Fit3D, a San Mateo, CA-based maker of e-commerce software. “But we have the technology to make clothes fit people. It’s not a size 7; it’s a size [person’s name.]”

Fit3D has a body scanner that provides data to the apparel and garment industries through a subsidiary company called BodyBlock AI. Donnelly says the company has created more than 700,000 avatars from body scans of people in in the U.S. and 45 other countries. One-third of the scans are male, and the remainder are women whose ages range from 25 to 80.

“Brands typically choose to make their signature pattern on a size medium, and then scale that in Excel to other sizes,” says Donnelly, who’s also in charge of marketing at BodyBlockAI. “But you can’t scale a medium-sized person into an extra-large person.”

About 68 percent of the U.S. population is considered overweight, Donnelly adds, but only 23 percent of apparel currently made can fit them.

Given that there is no standard to women’s sizes—an 8 in one brand is not the same as an 8 in another—a lot of clothing gets returned. Shoppers now buy multiple sizes of the same item online, have them shipped to their door, keep the one that fits, and send all the rest back to the retailer.

All that buying and returning adds up, costing $351 billion in lost sales in 2017, about 10 percent of total retail sales, according to consultancy Appriss Retail.

It turns out, we’ve known that poor fit means outsized returns for nearly 100 years. The Mail Order Association of America was noting women were returning clothing because of poor fit in the 1930s, according to a Slate article.

“The Department of Agriculture measured only women in their 20s on the East Coast who were white,” says Merin Guthrie, founder and CEO of Kit in Houston.

Guthrie, an amateur sewer, got interested in the apparel business after she designed and sewed bridesmaids dresses for a friend. “This was the first time that these women … Next Page »

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