Try before you buy – virtual fitting online

We’ve all been there. You see something you want online, you’ve decided you wanted it, you’ve checked the store’s size guide, it’s a done deal, it’s ordered. It arrives…‘Ah!’ Wrong size? Yup.

This article looks at the new virtual fitting rooms used by some retailers to help users make the right decision for them; a customer experience strategy which has been proven to reduce returns by up to 52%, whilst increasing sales by over 50% [1].

Online shopping – how to make the right choices?

Shopping online has long been a popular past-time for many people, with 2/3 of adults using the internet to buy goods and services. The UK spent £68.2 billion on the internet in 2011, with the most popular purchases for women being clothes and sporting goods.

The UK spent £68.2 billion on the internet in 2011.

Now we can shop when the stores are closed, we can do it in our lunch break, on our commute, whilst we’re waiting for friends… the list goes on. Yet with so many shops changing their versions of size control, and with new styles and trends every few months, how can retailers help their customers make the right choices?

“Standardized size charts exist, but designers often take liberties to create their own smaller scale, regardless of how illogical the numbers are.” – Tammy Kinley, PhD, associate professor of merchandising at the University of North Texas [3].

Vanity sizing – Flattery works in store but not online

It’s a well known fact that retailers have indulged in vanity sizing these last few years. Today’s size 14 would actually have been a size 16 in the 70’s [4]. This works out great for retailers in-store, as it has been proven that people are more likely to part with their cash if they’re feeling good about themselves. It does however make life much more difficult for the online shopper, who needs to navigate the mine-field of each retailer’s version of sizing.

Size tags have become infuriatingly inconsistent.

“Designers know that if customers feel happy when they try the clothes on, they are likely to buy that brand again.” – Jim Lovejoy, industry director of the apparel research company TC2’s SizeUSA National Sizing Survey [3].

When customers judge it ‘wrong’, it can lead to frustration, hassle and a bad experience with the brand. The expectations of consumers is that a size 12 is a size 12, so why should they need to remember the different versions of sizing from different brands?

“Women want to measure up to the 0 ideal. Complicating this crazy situation is that unlike weight, which is a quantifiable figure you can count on, size tags have become infuriatingly inconsistent. Not only is a 6 today probably roomier than a 6 from just a few years ago, but different stores have varying definitions of a size 6“. – Molly Triffin, Cosmopolitan [3].

High returns – a tainted customer experience

Of course people will continue to use online shopping despite these difficulties because it’s so convenient (and let’s admit it: fun). However customer experience can be tainted because you can only find out if your choice fits you once it’s arrived. Some customers combat this by ordering multiple sizes at one time, guaranteeing returns and leading to a false impression of sales data.

“Almost 1 in 4 garments are being returned – 70% of those returns are because the customer’s got the wrong size.” – Heikki Haldre – Chief executive & founder of [5].

The challenge lies in retailers and how they can improve customer’s experiences, helping users to choose the garments for their skin tone, body shape, height, hair style etc. Enabling users to make the right decisions can lead to a reduction in returns and even an increase in sales.

70% of returns are because the customer’s got the wrong size.

Virtual fitting room – enhancing the online experience

There are several ways retailers have started implementing virtual fitting rooms on their sites. Matalan uses quite a low tech solution to allow customers to create outfits from their store. Whilst this may increase volume of sales, it doesn’t solve the issue of incorrect sizing and returns.

Matalan Virtual Dressing Room

L.K. Bennett have introduced a virtual fitting room where you input your own height, weight and key measurements, which enables the software to suggest the correct fit for you. As good as this sounds, it’s not yet implemented on many of their garments, and therefore doesn’t have much (or any) impact on the shopping experience.

LK bennett virtual fittingroom

Warehouse on the other hand have started implementing virtual fitting rooms in a relatively easy to use way:

  • Start by inputting your height, weight and bra size
  • It estimates your waist and hip measurement, which users can then edit
  • A model is presented – you can then select the closest skin tone and hair colour to your own
  • You can also select if the model has hair up or down
Edit your skin tone and hair style

This model can be altered at any time, and sits to the bottom right of the screen whilst browsing. Items that can be ‘tried on’ are clearly marked in the results. Users simply have to click on ‘try’ and the item appears on their model. Not only is this experience quite simple, it’s also quite fun. Whole outfits can quickly be created and evaluated.

“Accurate recommendations lead to higher consumer confidence. A/B testing has shown FitFyle to increase sales by more than 50%”. – Fitfyle [1].

Edit your model at any time

Once you’ve found an outfit you like, the virtual fitting room suggests sizes for your measurements. Users can alter these, and the fitting room will suggest if they think it will be too small/large. This helps customers find a truer fit based on their own measurements but also helps them to buy clothes that fit as the designer intended (reducing those fashion faux-pas). Unfortunately Warehouse don’t go a step further by allowing users to see their selected size on their body shape, relying only on their recommendations to support the decision making.

Suggesting a size based on your measurements

Once you’re happy with the sizes, you can add the whole outfit to your basket with one click. Simple stuff, but pretty dangerous for the wallet.


I’m all in favour of virtual fitting rooms. They make the online shopping experience more engaging, they improve confidence in choices and make the experience more fun in general. It’s also been proven to reduce returns and increase sales. However it still remains to be seen if the size recommendations and virtual models are accurate enough to satisfy customers and make a lasting change in their online shopping behaviour.









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