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  • Writer's pictureDeanna Meador

Can Apparel Brands Afford to Not Offer Virtual Fitting?

In December of 2023, when asked about their most returned online purchases, the largest percentage of online shoppers listed apparel as their most returned category. [1] Apparel has been at the top of this list, above electronics and even shoes, since well before the pandemic began. 

The primary reason for this high rate of returns comes down to issues with sizing and fit. 

Customers just don’t know which size to buy when shopping online and even when they get the right size, the fit could be all wrong for their body shape. These returns cost apparel brands in the United States hundreds of billions of dollars annually and the amount of waste going to landfills since 2019 has quadrupled. 

With these staggering numbers, should apparel brands tell their customers to go fit themselves before they buy? Literally. What if before a purchase is made, customers were invited, even enticed, to utilize the latest advancements in virtual try on technology? 

Despite high usage (72%) and availability of size charts, approximately 63% of customers regularly purchase a product in multiple sizes with the intent of returning, and this percentage is on the rise. [2] One customer interviewed by Couture Technologies purchased 20 dresses online for an event and returned 19 of them after trying them on at home. Clearly having a size chart available isn’t enough. This combined with a trend towards personalization-at-scale and the desire for online shopping ‘experiences’ makes the timing perfect for disruptive innovation. 

Since the early 90s, technology companies have been working alongside apparel partners to address challenges and develop digital solutions. 

A series of digital innovations have delivered better search capabilities, faster shipping, enhanced recommendation algorithms and the list goes on, yet until recently tools capable of delivering a modern, accurate, and easy fitting experience for online shoppers have been largely unavailable. 

For years, this has left a gap where the online shopping experience hasn’t been able to compete with the in-store experience, leaving a hole in developing a comprehensive digital customer experience strategy for apparel companies that have an online presence. This gap has become more pressing to fill as the population undergoes a generational shift with millennials projected to account for ~75% of the workforce by 2025. [3] This generation has grown up with cellphones, gaming, and personalized experiences. They engage with technology in ways that were foreign to previous generations and these lived experiences have a significant impact on how they experience the world and what they expect from the brands they love. Luckily for today’s brands, technology is advancing rapidly and there is no better time than now to redefine what it means to shop online. This is where brands will truly win and be able to stand out in a very crowded market. 

There are 3 primary types of digital technologies that are designed to improve the fitting experience, reduce returns, and increase sales:

  1. Size Recommendation Tools

Size recommendation tools gained traction over a ~10 year period and then started to fall out of favor. These tools often prompt customers to provide their measurements and/or fill out a detailed profile about themselves that is then used to make a recommendation for what size the customer should buy. In Couture Technologies’ customer discovery they heard over and over again that customers didn’t want a brand to tell them what size to buy. Instead they wanted to be empowered to make selections based on their own fit preferences and how they planned to wear an item. 

2. Augmented Reality Mirrors or Applications

The second, augmented reality mirrors and applications, are used to fit a piece of clothing or a product to a customer’s reflection as they stand in front of a physical smart mirror or on a customer’s photo when they use an app on their phone. This allows customers to determine if a color or print might work, but they do not take into account accurate sizing or fit of the items. These are what’s called a paper doll approach. Items go on top and are forced to fit often resulting in an image that hasn’t yet crossed the line that separates creepy from cool. 

3. Virtual Try on Technology

The third, virtual try on technology, uses photos or entered measurements to create an avatar of the customer’s body and combine this with 3D virtual versions of garments. This empowers customers to find the size and fit they prefer by trying multiple options on their avatar.

A New Fashion Technology Brand

In February of 2024, the Couture Technologies team came together to launch a new e-commerce apparel brand, Freedom Company. This brand is poised to serve as a testing ground for new technologies from on-demand manufacturing to fully integrated virtual try on. In its first two months of operation, Freedom Company thus far has experienced zero returns. 

Freedom Company’s virtual try on experience uses VisualizeX™. VisualizeX™ is the premier virtual fitting and try-on solution empowering apparel brands to reduce returns, boost conversions, and grow their business by ensuring customers get the right fit the first time. VisualizeX™ gives customers the power of preference by combining authentic 3D virtual garments, personalized avatars, and our patent-pending FitMap™ technology allowing customers to see where an item will fit loose or tight on their body. Customers can try on clothing and combine outfits with the snap of two photos with no app required.

It is the rapid adoption of new solutions and the creation of user-facing lab environments like Freedom Company that will drive disruptive (not just incremental) changes that show us what the next -gen e-commerce experience can be. In the near future, utilizing digital solutions to enhance the customer fitting experience will be a requirement from customers as the impact of the current generational shift and the environmental and revenue implications for continuing with the status quo become no longer sustainable.  

For brands- don’t be afraid to try something new! This is where winners will be made.

For shoppers- go fit yourself! Utilize virtual try on to cut down on the number of items you need to return.

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