November 15, 2012, 10:15 AM

Clothes Horse finds a fit with e-retailers

The technology firm helps online shoppers buy clothes in the right sizes.

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While e-retailers today are adding everything from videos to product guides to their sites in an effort to help shoppers make informed buying decisions, the question of whether an item of clothing will fit still can frustrate online shoppers.

A new technology from New York- based Clothes Horse aims to solve this problem. The start-up today announced deals to implement its tool on the sites of several apparel retailers.

Clothes Horse built its application around a database that tracks the cuts and measurements of many styles and brands of clothing.  A shopper using Clothes Horse on an e-commerce site enters information about his body, including height, weight, and body type, such as average or athletic. Next, the shopper describes a specific piece of clothing he likes, including the brand, such as a Brooks Brothers, the fit of the shirt (such as slim fit) and the size of shirts he already owns. The application then tells the shopper what size will best fit him on that retailer’s site.

Women’s luxury fashion brands Nicole Miller and Von Vonni, men’s apparel retailer Frank and Oak, and high-end men’s dress shirt retailer Ledbury are all using the Clothes Horse tool, the vendor announced today.

The brands are using the technology to help individual shoppers analyze how everything from T-shirts and to hoodies and dress shirts to dresses, will fit, Clothes Horse says. 

Nicole Miller contacted Clothes Horse after reading an article about the technology, says Andrea Marron, director of digital strategy for the apparel manufacturer and retailer. “Nicole Miller been around for 30 years, but last year we really started focusing on and realizing the potential in the web,” Marron says. While Nicole Miller was selling online, the New York-based company outsourced all its e-commerce operations to a company based in Los Angeles. That company, One Stop Internet, managed the e-commerce platform and took care of site design, development and product warehousing.

With its new strategy to focus more on e-commerce, Nicole Miller hired Marron in March to develop an online strategy in-house and improve web sales. Marron made several tweaks to the site, including offering free shipping and returns, displaying three images for every product instead of just the front and the back, and adding more product information.

Since making those changes, web sales for Nicole Miller have increased about 100%, Marron says. But Marron still wanted to find a way to help women order the right sizes.

“We were struggling with the same things as other clothing retailers—high return rates and shoppers being hesitant to order because of the hassle of returning items when they don’t fit,” Marron says.  Retail consulting firm Kurt Salmon Associates has estimated that 20% to 30% of clothing bought online is returned.

When Marron found out about Clothes Horse she liked its simplicity compared with other tools designed to help online shoppers find clothes that fit. “Some would have you go to a mall and get a body scan,” she says. “Others had shoppers take a video of their body with their webcams.”

As an alternative, Nicole Miller began testing the technology with its own staff.  Women who work at the company are supplied free Nicole Miller apparel, but are also required to wear it each day to work. To test the system, employees would use the fit guide and then go in and try on what Clothes Horse had recommended from the office inventory.

“At first it was a little off,” Marron says. “Someone who wore a size four might be told she should get a six.” But Clothes Horse worked with the retailer to tweak its algorithms and now Marron says the tool is typically right on the mark.

Nicole Miller currently offers the tool on product pages for some of its best-selling styles. Marron says the retailer plans to add it to every product page when it relaunches its e-commerce site in March.

Currently, about 6.1% of Nicole Miller consumers who visit the product pages that offer the tool try it out. Additionally, consumers who use Clothes Horse are five times more likely to purchase, Marron says. And, the return rates for styles that offer the tool are lower on average than the rates for items that do not, she says.

Clothes Horse says it has found in A/B tests that when retailers add the fit tool to their sites they experience a 12% to 15% increase in sales on average, 12% higher average order values and 7% to 14% fewer returns.

Retailers pay a flat fee for Clothes Horse based on the number unique visitors a site hosts each month. The company sets prices by tiers; for example, the tool costs $500 per month for e-retailers that attract less than 10,000 unique monthly visitors.

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