15%-40% of online clothes sold are returned

Source: The Independent, Feb 2011

According to Andy Mulcahy, of e-retailers’ body IMRG, between 15 and 40 per cent of clothes (different stores have different rates) bought online are returned.

“There’s no doubt this technology will become more and more of the retail experience,” says Tim Jeffrey, retail director at ‘i-am’ associates, a brand consultancy firm which counts Adidasand Diesel as clients. Tim describes online fitting rooms as a “compelling” idea which will increase online sales and reduce return rates, cutting hassle and costs for online consumers and retailers.

So how do they work? One of the simplest forms can be seen in eBay’s Fashion App for the iPhone which allows users to pose in virtual sunglasses before they buy the real thing. It uses augmented reality technology (AR), which allows digital data such as pictures and videos to overlay real-world surroundings. This means users can take a photo of themselves on their phones, overlay that with a virtual image of their chosen sunglasses and see how they would look in them. According to eBay’s Ruth Szyszkowski, the auction website’s sales from mobile devices more than tripled in 2010 and she says the app will only add to this because it gives shoppers “more confidence” when buying online.

Heikki assures me I’m not alone in sending back most of the clothes I buy online. He says one-in-four generously-fitting items (like T-shirts) bought online are returned, and half of all closely-fitted items are sent back. For him, the benefits of online fitting rooms are obvious: “By reducing the risk of shopping online, sales will increase. Reduced returns help reduce costs, which in turn should help retailers sell at lower prices.” So could this technology be the end of the real-life store?

“By 2018, some 35 per cent of clothing sales will be on the internet,” says Heikki. “This will mean that up to one-inthree clothes shops might be closing, or in need of changing their business model. The same has already happened to the book retailers and travel agents.”

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