Can Social Proof Messaging Solve The Problem of Fit in Online Fashion?

Marjorie Leonidas

We work with a number of fast fashion e-tailers, who all agree that one consumer mega trend is causing their businesses a problem – fit.

This isn’t new news, but as fashion and apparel sales have become the fastest-growing e-commerce category – second only to consumer electronics – it’s become more common and pressing. 2014 figures from Forrester said that the online return rate for a retailer is 20 to 30 per cent, and about twice the rate of goods bought in-person, in-store.

Online fashion sales are huge, and it’s a pain point for retailers as much as consumers when ill-fitting clothes bought online are returned. For consumers, the anticipation, optimism and excitement of their new purchase goes sour; and for online retailers, fit-related returns cost millions in terms of lost revenue and the extra operational expense needed to ship and process. Moreover, according to Gartner, fewer than half of returned online goods sell at full price again, dealing retailers a double blow.

Revenues lost from returns are of course only half of the problem. When customers are unsure whether an item will fit in the first place, they’re less likely to convert.

Technology suppliers have of course not been shy in trying to solve the problem. There’s now a range of tools to try and support consumers – everything from manual measurement input, to digital fitting rooms, to complex algorithmic solutions which meld fit data to recommend which size an online fashion shopper should pick. And yet the black-bagged returns are still coming back.

The retailers that we talk to say that this is partly inevitable. There is always going to be a chunk of the market who will buy multiple sizes and send the ill-fitting one back. It’s an unfortunate behaviour that’s evolved with fashion e-commerce.  The introduction of new technology won’t automatically reverse the trend either.  If you’re a shopper who’s habitually returning unwanted items, you’re not going to trust a new widget straight-away. We know that standard sizes and body shapes are all different.

High return rates are also partly to do with limited technology adoption. Once fit technologies are added, a behavioural change is needed to actually get shoppers to engage. Some tools need shoppers to take an extra step in their online purchase journeys, but for fast fashionistas who want to get online, get it and get out, that’s also possibly a step too far.

Where fashion e-commerce has exploded, online returns have followed suit, and retailers are now having to catch up.  It’s tough, but as customer-centric businesses, retailers have to make it work.

It seems that whether a clever, automated tool or one that needs manual input, sales conversions will only go up, and returns go down when shoppers actually trust the information that they’re getting. Which is where crowd-sourced, behavioural information like quality reviews, fit reviews, ratings and purchase information are powerful.

There’s little that we can do about the habitual returners who are likely to carry on buying and returning.  However, for the mass of shoppers in who aren’t sure about fit, and are dropping out of the purchase journey because of it, the more information that we can give them the better, making them more likely to trust in their product choices and therefore more likely to convert.

That’s the principle that effective social proof messaging should live and die by for fast fashion e-commerce. Fashion is the one retail niche where consumers are more likely to have a friend or family member to back them up when they’re shopping in-store. The benefit is that if they can’t see how tight the dress is around their thighs, then their friend is sure to tell them.  We lose this third party reassurance when we shop online, which is where social proof messaging fills the gap, providing crowd-sourced support for e-commerce fashion choices.

Social proof messaging can be tagged to every item on a retail site, and shoppers shouldn’t need to look for it. Real-time information should be shown with the product page, helping to build trust and add value with third party reviews about fit, quality (or any other issue that retailers need to address).  If the crowd agrees that an item comes up small, they’re arguably more reliable than a prep-programmed app.

It’s a non-disruptive, information injection that is working for the fashion e-tailers that Taggstar works with. For example, they tell us that by letting customers know on the product page that the item fits tight (and therefore to buy a size larger), customers are less likely to buy two of the same item and to return the ill-fitting one. This stops retailers losing margins on the item that is kept.

Additionally, having information about fit on the product page has also shown to increase sales conversions because these social proof messages actually help build customer confidence to buy rather than abandon.

To find out more about Taggstar for your fashion site, get in touch.

Marjorie Leonidas

Author Marjorie Leonidas

Marjorie is Taggstar's CEO. With a background in technology, digital marketing and in growing companies, Marjorie's been with Taggstar since 2014, developing our social proof leadership.

More posts by Marjorie Leonidas