Gone are the days when sizing was just about measurements. With the evolution of fashion, the sizing issue has got more complex, because it is also about the right fit and style.

The fashion industry has come a long way to make the shopping experience as convenient as it is today, but there’s one area where things seem to only get more confusing as time goes on — sizing. All these numbers and letters that are supposed to make it easier to find an outfit that fits often do the opposite, creating a less than ideal purchasing process for everyone involved.

Since the era of mass production there has been attempts to standardise sizes, but is it really possible?

“Apparel sizing is a broken system. Despite efforts to standardise it, sizes across countries, brands, or even within the same brand have staggering inconsistency.”

For a long time, a size Small in one brand was a size Small for another brand as well, there was standardisation in sizing. Unlike now, when fashion has become more brand-centric. Each brand has developed their own sizing system, according to their target customer. If we impose a universal size chart, “a lot of people are going to go without clothes,” says Kathleen Fasanella, an apparel industry pattern maker with 40 years of experience in the industry, in her interview with Vox. The reason comes down to different body shapes, as well a target group chosen by a brand.

Concept of 'Vanity-Sizing'

Today, fashion brands are often using "vanity sizing," which is a method of labeling of clothes with sizes smaller than the actual cut of the items. So, those size 34 jeans might really be closer to size 36, and perhaps even bigger.

Why do brands do this? The easiest way to answer this is that downsized labels make customers feel good. According to a study in Journal of Consumer Psychology, smaller size labels increase the self esteem of customers. On the other hand, larger size labels (for the same actual size clothing) reduce the self-esteem of the customer, and demotivate them to buy that item.

Where does it leave online shoppers?

As a modern shopper, going back and forth with different sizes or struggling to find a fit that is perfect has become a standard dressing room norm.

Online shopping has further complicated matters. There are limitations surrounding the online purchase of items since people are required to make a decision only by predicting characteristics of apparel products indirectly through their screen, without physically touching and wearing them.

It is inconvenient for consumers to make a rough guess as to whether certain clothes are suitable to them by evaluating a photograph of a model with a skinny and idealistic body type. It is also difficult for consumers to manually measure clothes with a ruler in order to confirm that the clothes are manufactured using the measurements table proposed by the seller. In addition, they tend to be uncertain if their chosen apparel products are actually suitable to their bodies. Therefore, the aforementioned methods are limited. An issue of whether certain apparel products fit consumers’ bodies remains in the online apparel industry.

The next step if the product does not fit perfectly is returns. Returns are dreadful for both shoppers as well as retailers, who spend a large sum of money covering “free” returns. Returned products that eat into the bottom lines of brands as “unwearable” clothes contribute to environmental waste.

In fact, according to a survey by GlobalData, size and fit are among the top reasons for returning online orders. This only adds an extra layer of costs that further erode retailers’ already thin profit margins.

Source: Vogue Business

Most importantly, there are style & fit preferences

David Babayan, CTO at Easysize talks about some of the challenges of dealing with the variations of fashion products.

“It’s important to understand the complexity and the variety of factors that play a role in finding the right size. From the clothing cut and fabrics, to the customer’s preferred style. It is naive to approach the topic as a simple issue with measurements or a categorisation problem. Because products that have the same size or measurements, can have distinctly different styles and therefore fit and feel.”

For example, you might like a slim fitting pair of trousers which make for the perfect work wear, but want an oversized pair of joggers as a lounge wear option.

What do Fashion executives have to say about this issue?

According to a survey taken by fashion executives in the Nordics, sizing and fitting issue is one of their top priorities, largely because of its impact on business. There is a crucial drop-off point in the customer journey. Which means that upto 65% of shoppers leave the website without a purchase if they are unsure about the size and fit. Especially for any first time buyer, it is extremely important for them to feel confident about their size to make the purchase. As mentioned earlier, returns have the biggest impact on the profitability of e-commerce. Out of 25% of all online fashion that is returned, 70% is due to wrong size and fit. Other than that, the customer support is overwhelmed by handling requests about sizes and providing fitting advice.

“It is not one problem but two. One is the problem of choosing the right size. But the other one, which is more important and difficult to solve, is about how an item fits you and whether it's matching your expectations.”

How do Fashion Brands solve the problem now?

Using a size guide is an industry norm, but is it really sufficient? These guides provide a basic level of customer advice but are hard to use and time consuming. They are also very generic in nature and hence, not able to take a lot of things into consideration. Reviews of products like “runs smaller” or “fits perfectly” can be helpful sometimes in giving some insights about the product, but any shopper can easily miss out on them. Also, everyone has a different preference and reviews can be somewhat misleading too. For international brands, size conversion tables are used, for example, US 4 = UK 8 etc. This might make it more confusing for some shoppers. With no standardised sizing across brands, this creates a false illusion of correct sizes and leads to even more returns.

Some brands have even started adopting AI-based solutions. These solutions provide a more interactive and engaging experience, clear tracking and measuring of results and can be customised for every different product. But if not done correctly, some retailers might find it difficult to integrate and maintain. It can also get time consuming for shoppers, depending on the solution. There are also concerns over customer privacy. More often than not, these solutions are just a prettier version of size guides. They do not provide accurate results.

What is the ideal solution?

A lot of brands fail to realise the importance of having a good solution for this problem, which affects the business more than anything. Brands need a system that reflects unique sizing & fitting of each product, focusing on the preferences of the shopper as well. There does not have to be a generic “one size fits all” recommendation. There is no doubt that personalization technologies already play and will continue to play a big role in fashion e-commerce, an industry that is, by its nature, very complex. People don’t just buy fashion for utilitarian reasons, but to feel good and look a certain way.

There needs to be a solution that takes a lot of things into account, like the user experience of the solution should be easy to integrate for the brand and at the same time, easy to use by the shopper. The questions should be understandable and not reflect poorly on the conversions. Online shoppers have a short attention span and brands need to keep them interested long enough to make them purchase an item.

As an industry, we are still far from having the ideal personalization technology that will not only account for all the requirements a shopper might have but also fully understand what shopper’s perceived style and expectations are. Conventional approaches to personalization must be modified and adjusted to account for the industry’s unique challenges.