Will Online Clothes Ever Fit?

By all accounts, lots of people are buying lots of items online. And luckily for e-commerce, the menu of products that people will buy, sight unseen, seems to be expanding. So why are so many shoppers reluctant to buy clothes online?

The obvious answer, of course, is that e-shoppers can’t try e-clothes on. Maybe more so than any other item, every piece of clothing is different for every person. You even need to try on something as basic and easy as your Levi 501s periodically to make sure your size hasn’t changed.

According to Nielsen//NetRatings, the apparel category has grown at a faster rate than many other e-tail areas in the past year. However, in a recent study by Mainspring, 82 percent of online shoppers said they’ve never bought clothes on the Internet. Of that group, more than 60 percent said that the inability to touch and see the garments in person was the major sticking point.

E-tailers have tried to cover up the deficiencies with a few high-tech tricks. Features like the 3-D virtual dressing rooms pioneered by Boo.com and now adopted by many online clothes retailers have had some impact. But it might take another decade — if not another dimension — before the can’t-feel, can’t-try-on clothes problem is solved by the Internet.

If clothing e-tailers want to foster growth quickly, they should focus on the consumer concerns that are much easier to fix and maybe more important in the long run.

Yes, for the other 40 percent, it’s all about customer service.

Confidence Game

According to Mainspring, the reasons that customers do not buy clothes online include privacy concerns, difficulties getting real customer service help and, for a more than a third of all shoppers, fears that returning improperly fitting clothes would be a major headache.

Solving the return problem should be priority one for all e-tailers, but it’s especially true of clothing merchants. Consumer fears about returns only compound the problem of not being able to touch and feel the clothes before buying.

Word of Mouth

Wait, you say, return policies are there. Most good e-tailers already know better than to make customers jump through hoops to send items back.

But this isn’t about reality, it’s about perception. The fact that millions of potential consumers still think that returning items to an online merchant is a hassle is reason enough to re-examine whether everything that can be done is being done.

Shoo, Shoe

E-commerce is in the one-on-one phase of the game now, where the large-scale war for customers has broken down into individual battles. The shoe might fit, but the customer isn’t going to wear it out of the goodness of her heart. She needs a reason to do so.

If e-commerce can’t give it to her, the local mall certainly will.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.


  • This is something that I have thought about too. It is hard enough to find clothes that fit when you can actually try them on. What I have thought would be one of the best customer services would be a system where you sent all (all, all) of your measurements and with the technology available, or create it if not, they would only send clothes that would fit your body. A particular brand, style etc would only change in size relatively so once one size’s measurements were computerized it would be simple for them to do the rest. They could even go so far as to list all the items that would fit into your particular body shape. They may even find out how poorly clothing fits most people!

    • I think clothes are simply not suited for e-commerce. There is such endless variation AM ong people that even if you provide your exact measurements (and who is honestly going to want *that* information stored in a database somewhere?) there are so many factors that still vary: your skin tone, hair color, eye color, etc. all affect which clothes look good and which make you look like an overripe banana.

      • On line clothing will ever fit? Why not!!! The only diff.is the physical contact with the tailor who stitches your clothes and it is not compulsory to have physical contact as far as your size is conveyed to the other end. A good eg. is http://www.americanfitclothing.com who takes size to stitch your clothes . So it is not logic “will online clothes ever fit”.

        Moreover most of the people round the world prefer free style readymade dresses which do not fit exactly as the stitched dress and this free style (M, L, L,XL,XXL) dress can be bought online conveniently .

        • I agree that something has to be done about the presentation of items online, however I will continue to buy hard to find sizes in pants and shoes from clothing retailer who offer these items online (and yes I AM sometimes disappointed by the color or fit). These retailers have captured a significant portion of my clothing budget because of their ability to specialize.

          • This is silly. Cataloguers have been selling clothes successfully for a hundred years without the benefit of touch and feel. In fact, clothing represents one of the largest mail order industries. The problem online is that you can’t SEE the product very well — too small, no models, no background setting and washed-out colors make everything look blah. The sales presentation is just not compelling enough to buy.

          • Paper catalogs sell billions of clothes, while current online sales are less than $1 billion.

            I have developed a patent-pending way to photo-realistically simulate how clothes will look and fit on specific individuals in real-time over the Internet.

            This personalization and the benefits of trying on clothes with the convenience and privacy benefits of the Net can help online clothing sales.

            David Hoo

            860 675 4635

            [email protected]

  • Once again we have an example of commentators and consultants, who have never been in the retail business, passing judgement on an aspect of the etail business that they do not understand.

    The facts are simple: billions of dollars have already been spent on clothing over the internet. While a portion of internet shoppers have chosen to not yet purchase clothing over the Web, it is preposterous to predict that apparel over the net is doomed to failure. Catalog shopping does not afford any greater tactile or visual experinece than the internet does. The returns issue is the same for catalog merchants, and yet direct mail now exceeds 15% of all apparel purchases. Would a direct mail pundit be so naive as to claim that apparel sold via direct mail won’t work? (Try telling that to L.L. Bean, J. Crew and Land’s End.)

    Of course there are limitations to being able to see, smell, feel and taste items that are sold on the web, just as there are the same limitations on items sold over the phome or by mail. To draw broad conlclusions about the relative success of those types of ventures from this single observation is both naive and incorrect.

    A greater danger to ecommerce is allowing commnetators who do not have a deep understanding of the issues facing etailers to publish.

  • Once again, multi-channel retailers who’ve developed a strong reputation and consumer base offline will have more success than the pure-plays.

    Hesitant shoppers … especially women, for whom apparel sizes typically vary from manufacturer to manufacturer … can be enticed to shop at the online outlets of retailers whose clothes they’ve already had the opportunity to try on.

    Once you’re an established Talbot’s, or Gap, or Ann Taylor shopper, you can feel pretty confident about the fit of their clothes. Venture to a BlueFly or other e-tailer with multiple brands and designs, and your confidence level plummets. These guys REALLY need to develop the usable “bells and whistles” for virtual fitting rooms, etc.

  • I agree with the fact that fit is probably the most important aspect on the clothing purchases online. However i came across a website that is addressing that.

    http://www.americanfitclothing.com that offers pants and jeans custom made, you select style, fabric, color, and your measurements, they made a pair of pants for me that fits my body with my name on it. i think the real winners in eretail would be companies that give customers a service they can not get anywhere else.


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