Clothing supply chains boosted by virtual changing rooms

Ferdinand Metzler, the founder and CEO of Swiss fashion-technology start-up meepl – the new easy-to-use and time-saving clothes shopping companion – shares his insight on how virtual body creation software can green the fashion industry and boost brands profits by reducing the number of returns which are spiraling ever upwards in our fast-fashion world.

It’s no news that one of the biggest problems facing clothes retailers is the large amount of returned clothing from customers after they order multiple sizes online in an attempt to guarantee a perfect fit when the clothes arrive. This has resulted in a much larger and more expensive supply chain for retailers due to the higher stock levels.

One of the ways to circumvent this problem is to create a better customer experience when choosing clothes, while making the clothing industry more sustainable. A significant amount of clothing – mainly returns – ends up in landfills or incineration plants, contributing to the textiles industry’s share of the carbon budget.

This high return rate in the clothing industry has been an omnipresent problem since the rise of online shopping. The reason behind this is the lack of customer experience when it comes to size and fit, because the clothing industry is missing sizing standards leaving consumers guessing their sizes across different brands and even within a brand.

The lack of standards and information is the reason why brands and retailers are facing such high return rates. Returns for brands are lower than for retailers because they can better control their sizing system, and a significant number of consumers buying from one brand often know what size they need for this specific brand.

With climate activists ‘Extinction Rebellion’ disrupting London Fashion Week 2020 – held at The Store X in London recently – reducing landfilled items partially addresses some of their concerns. The overproduction of clothing and its potential impact on global fashion, ecological and economic ecosystems, is a real concern.

However… the search for solutions are already underway.

For any sustainable solution to work, it’s important to remember that clothing is unique to every individual. How the clothes look, feel and fit is a personal decision and journey. Whatever solution we bring to the table, that personal choice and journey still needs to exist, in the physical world and the digital one too – even during a global pandemic.

With consumers now contained in their homes, public places being avoided and high street shops closing, meepl has seen a surge (35 percent) in enquiries for their 3D body scan technology since the Coronavirus became classified as a worldwide pandemic. From tailors and bespoke sportswear to independent retailers – the enquiries have come from a range of businesses, yet what they all have in common is their desire to bolster the online experience for their customers by offering made-to-measure and customisation solutions.

Technology is undoubtedly playing a vital role in evolving and improving the online customer experience in the retail world. From offering live online engagement to harnessing AI to deliver targeted recommendations, the online retail industry is working successfully to improve the digital experience for their customers. But it doesn’t solve the problem around ‘fit’. Enter the virtual dressing room.

A virtual dressing room

Using a smartphone or tablet, artificial intelligence and 3D geometry processing algorithms can create an avatar, which customers can then control through their smartphone to see how clothes look – a virtual changing room if you will. For example, our software is available as a web plug-in which can easily be integrated with clothing firms’ web services.

Avatar creation is straightforward – customers take a full-body ‘selfie’ of themselves and the software computes 45 to 150 measurements from this photo in seconds. Together with height measurements and other body reconstruction algorithms, an accurate duplicate of their body is created within the app giving a virtual representation of their own body.

So, when buying more clothes in the future, customers can refer to their app again to ensure a perfect fit. That leads to a much lower return rate, saving retailers money by reducing stock levels held in their supply chains.

An added and game-changing benefit is that having the capability to provide a perfect fit in a digital world will vastly enhance the customer’s online experience. Retailers who can facilitate this journey of trying on any clothing in their portfolio, through their avatar, will stand out in the crowded and often ‘promiscuous’ marketplace. Ultimately, they will create happy customers, which translates into increased trust, greater loyalty, and supercharged bottom lines.

Last but not least, with more, anonymized, body information, brands and retailers get better insights into the body characteristics of their customers which they can leverage in the design phase to further improve size and fit for their target group(s).

The Swiss retail technology company meepl, has announced it will offer complimentary access* to their smartphone-enabled, 3D body scanning technology for vulnerable SMEs working within the fashion industry during this difficult time. 

* complimentary access is until the end of August, 2020. 

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