It’s time to update the old wardrobe, you tell yourself, as you order a new shirt from that nifty new local brand. When it arrives, though, you discover the arms are too long and the chest is too snug.
If you bury it in the back of your closet, you’ve cost yourself a shirt and the shop loses a repeat customer. If you exchange it for another, the retailer absorbs shipping costs and loses revenue on a shirt now destined for the discount rack or the dumpster. Everybody loses.
It doesn’t have to be that way, say entrepreneurs Shawn Miller, BA’20 (Economics) and Arpit Bhanot, BESc’20, who have launched a company called SizeWize to help customers and retailers find the right clothing fit for different bodies and styles.
They aim to generate return customers for retailers and to minimize returned clothing.
The cloud-based artificial-intelligence platform, which has soft-launched in London and will roll out more widely in April, adds a customized sizing tool to small retailers’ websites to help shoppers find the best fit. It is designed especially for small retail brands powered by e-commerce on Shopify.
“We came up with the idea in the middle of the pandemic, when we ventured out to buy local clothing brands that we wouldn’t normally shop from,” Miller said. “We checked out some of the cool places in London and, after shopping from about three of them, we noticed discrepancies between sizes of clothing. A ‘large’ shirt from one brand might fit like a ‘small’ at another one and we thought, why isn’t there an easy way for us to shop online without having to worry about new clothing not fitting us?”
Using SizeWize, store staff log the dimensions of their clothing brands, online shoppers fill out a short questionnaire about body measurements, type and fit preference (form-fitting or baggy, for example), and the algorithm analyzes the data to suggest which items will fit best.
Retailers make the sale, customers are happy. Everybody wins.
And so does the environment, said Miller.
Clothing in general has a 30-per-cent return rate – poor fit is by far the top reason for return – and customers send back e-commerce purchases at three times the rate of items bought in a store. While estimates of waste vary widely, at least one study shows that tonnes of clothing, those “free” returns to the consumer, end up in landfill or are incinerated every year.
SizeWize-connected retailers would pay a fee of $10 to $50 a month, a cost that pays for itself since the average cost of processing one returned item is $10 to $20, Miller said.
The fledgling company is rolling out free test subscriptions to local retailers until the app is in full launch. Customers can also answer general and specific questions about sizing preferences on the SizeWize page.
“The more data we can collect the more accurate our algorithms will be,” said Miller.
And while it might make sense to suggest that manufacturers just adhere to common sizing standards, the argument doesn’t take into account customers’ different style and fit preferences. A woman in her 20s and a baby boomer may have a similar build and body type, but they’re likely to differ in their preference for tight or relaxed fit.
Inconsistent sizing is relatively new territory for Miller who, until recently, had clothing tastes that alternated between just two brands.
That’s why, when he and Bhanot conceived their idea, they turned to Western’s Propel Entrepreneurship – a startup accelerator offering coaching, mentorship and workshops – for guidance on how to design and build the app and the business.
“We came to Propel with barely an idea and they were so good at helping us get to the bottom of the problem and helping us hone in on a solution,” Miller said.