April 21, 2014, 11:41 AM

Online sizing technology helps two apparel sellers get off the ground

Dress shirt maker Hucklebury and T-shirt maker Threadmason both launched businesses on the premise of offering new products in custom sizes. To help shoppers find the right fits, each retailer turned to a virtual sizing technology provider.

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Finding the right-fitting piece of clothing from the endless brands and size options on the web can be a challenge for any shopper who doesn’t already know exactly what combination he’s looking for. And if what he’s seeking happens to be a new, custom-sized shirt sold only online, the problem becomes even more central to his buying decision.

Two startup apparel retailers, both of which manufacture custom men’s shirts and sell only those that are preordered online, are solving that problem with web-based tools that walk a shopper through a quick set of questions to recommend his best fit in seconds, no self-measuring required.

Threadmason,which manufactures and sells custom T-shirts for men, is using an online sizing tool from vendor Clothes Horse. The retailer offers 24 size and fit variations, and that’s a lot for the typical guy who’s used to only small, medium, large or larger, says co-founder Jake Huston.

“We knew all along that having this new sizing system would create a customer education problem, and we couldn’t rely on something like a sizing chart,” he says. Rather than spending the time—at least several months—and money to develop a tool to do the job itself, Threadmason was able to deploy the Clothes Horse tool on its site in two days. It will ship its first set of products later this month.

Clothes Horse’s tool gives Threadmason customers a quiz to find the best fit for them in seconds. A pop-up on the web site, it asks shoppers for their height, weight, inseam, build (average, slim, athletic or “well-fed”) and fit preference—tight, relaxed or neither. It then recommends their best size out of Threadmason’s 24 options, plus two alternatives, with explanations of how the fits differ.

Clothes Horse says it has found in A/B tests that when its retailer clients, which include fashion brands Nicole Miller, J. Lindeberg and Frank & Oak, add its fit recommendations 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. The vendor, founded in 2011, has been growing its revenue by 22% each month, says co-founder Vik Venkatraman. It’s also raised funding, though he declines to say how much. Its sizing tool is priced based on traffic; for example, it costs $500 per month for e-retailers that attract fewer than 10,000 unique monthly visitors.

The other startup, Hucklebury, which asks online shoppers to vote for men’s dress shirt designs in order to determine which ones it manufactures and sells, is using an online sizing tool from vendor Styku. That tool also gives a shopper a quick quiz about his size preferences, including asking about his current favorite-fitting shirt—perhaps a J. Crew dress shirt in size 15—which Styku cross-references with Hucklebury’s sizes to come up with its best-fit recommendation.

For Hucklebury, the main benefit of having the Styku tool on its web site is the resulting 20% to 30% reduction in returns compared with an older version of the site that did not have the tool, says co-founder Parag Jhaveri. He estimates that, between shipping and handling both ways, plus wages for staffers handling customer service calls and e-mails, a single returned shirt costs the retailer about $15 or $20. That’s money “you have to spend on a customer to keep him happy and just acquire his business, make sure his size is right,” he says.

Jhaveri estimates that about 60% to 70% of shoppers on the Hucklebury web site use the tool—indicating that a like amount of his customers aren’t completely sure of what size they should buy when they’re browsing. As the volume of business increases, then, the tool becomes more and more cost-effective, he says. For instance, at that rate, if he sells 3,000 shirts in a month, 2,100 of the customers might end up needing some help to figure out what size to buy. “Rather than calling customer service, they can use the tool,” he says.

Jhaveri declines to say exactly how much he pays for Styku each month, but says the tool is worth the investment, especially given his business model and target customers. “Internet users don’t necessarily like to go to stores to check everything out—especially men,” he says. “I personally believe this technology is going to be the future of shopping.”

Read more about virtual fitting and try-on technologies in the upcoming May issue of Internet Retailer magazine.

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