The ability to identify and understand customers is valuable to any retailer, in any sector. But, for apparel retailers, there is a set of attributes that stand head and shoulders – above any other: fit. Stuart Simms, chief executive officer, Fits.me, looks at the challenges of appealing to clothes shoppers online.
This really shouldn’t be a surprise; we are talking, are we not, about clothes! What could be more instructive for retailers than the uniquely personal attributes of personal dimensions and personal fit preferences? Which is to say: what can be more useful to an apparel retailer or brand than knowing the measurements of its shoppers, and how each individual prefers to wear a particular garment or type of garment; do they like, even, to wear a particular type or style of garment?
Any retailer able to capture this information and to act on it is well-placed to significantly increase shopper affinity with their brand.
Research we’ve just conducted across the UK on 2,000 shoppers found that no fewer than 30% of them “always” or “often” find it difficult to find what they are looking for. Another 52% report this being a “sometimes” phenomenon.
So what, you might say? Good question… but here’s what: 46% of shoppers “always” or “often” find it irritating to have to search through lots of clothes to find the item they want. Yes: you stand a better chance than not of (arguably, through omission) actively annoying almost half your shoppers. You can add another 35% if you want to include those who responded “sometimes”. By any measure, those aren’t pretty numbers.
It should be unsurprising, then, that 78% of shoppers surveyed claimed that if the retailer showed only clothes it knew would fit the customer, this would help them to choose.
Such numbers suggest two things to me.
First, they seem to suggest that the relentless rise of online clothes shopping has led retailers – and, possibly, shoppers – to lose touch with the full meaning of fit, misguidedly and subconsciously placing faith in the rather unhelpful concept of ‘size’ (while still thinking of it as fit). Yet fit, let’s not forget, is what connects shoppers emotionally to their purchase. Shoppers don’t say to themselves “Oh, the Medium, perfect,” – but they do say to themselves “This size [whatever it is] makes me look just how I wanted”. Fit is, at decision point, the embodiment of customer-centricity: not “It fits me” but “It fits me”. Shoppers want to know; they need confidence. It is a vital part of the experience.
Second, the numbers suggest a pretty strong consumer appetite for improvement on this sub-optimal shopping experience! Apparel retailers and brands should seize the opportunity to put the ‘fit factor’ back into fit, and to put fit at the centre of their customer experience. Doing so improves the average shopper’s experience of the brand by meeting that shopper’s – let’s face it, perfectly reasonable – expectations. At the same time, it offers retailers the ability to change what they think they know about their customers into what they do know, and to apply that insight everywhere across their business: from marketing, to garment design, to manufacturing, to merchandising, and in-store.
One final thought for you: who in the retail organisation is going to impact what is a reasonably significant change in thinking; who is going to drive through this re-framing of the customer journey, and leverage its value across the organisation? The ability to truly understand and serve ‘the customer’ seems to becoming a significant priority in today’s boardroom: witness John Lewis’ decision to scrap its marketing director role and create the role of ‘customer director’ in order to address the end-to-end consumer experience. John Lewis is only the latest in a line of brands to do so. It seems the need is recognised, the need is pressing, and retailers are organising to meet that need.
By Stuart Simms
Chief executive officer