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Meet the Pandora of Online Retail

If you’re like me, when you buy clothes online you check the return policy first. Because you know that shirt probably isn’t going to fit how you want.

With that in mind, you might think that more clothing purchases are performed in stores than online. But strangely enough, 65.9% of clothes were bought over the internet in 2010, according to a U.S. Census Bureau study. That amounts to $13.6 billion in revenue, compared to $7.08 billion for brick-and-mortar retailers.

The United States isn’t alone, either. A 2011 study on shopping habits in the U.K. by market research company, Mintel, showed that shopping for clothes online had grown 152% in five years’ time. And 35% of consumers were buying clothes online in 2011, up from 26% in 2010.

So does that mean these consumers are just luckier about finding clothes that fit? Not quite. In fact, up to 40% of clothing purchases made online are sent back to the retailer, according to IMRG.

As more consumers continue to shop online then, how do retailers plan to keep them from returning ill-fitting merchandise? By helping shoppers make a more informed decision about sizes, of course.

Which is where this company comes into play…

Fitting Rooms Go Digital

New York-based Clothes Horse understands the frustrations with finding the right size online.

As the company’s co-founder, Vikram Venkatraman, says, “Instead of being excited about this great new thing you’re about to buy, you think about the last time you had to return something, or you start wondering if it’s really going to be as nice on you as it looks in the picture.”

For retailers, such doubts don’t just lead to future returns. Consumers also end up ditching 70% of their online shopping cart at checkout. So size charts alone obviously aren’t cutting it.

To remedy the situation, Clothes Horse developed a unique widget that online retailers can use to ensure that consumers keep that shopping cart full, and don’t return items at a later date.

Essentially, you’ll see an icon that asks, “What size am I?” And you’re led to a series of questions that help you feel confident about opting for a particular size. It’s not just about height and weight, mind you. The widget asks you what kind of brands you like best, the sizes you ordinarily get in that brand and how well it fits you.

Since the questions mostly revolve around your current favorite brand, the company thinks of itself as the Pandora of retail.

After just a few seconds of answering questions, the widget informs you of the best size to buy and precisely how it will fit on different areas of your body.

So how well does it work?

Brutal Honesty Leads to Informed Purchases

According to TechCrunch, “In early tests with Clothes Horse beta customer, Bonobos.com, use of the new system delivered a 13% sales boost, results which the retailer has called encouraging.”

I’m not surprised by the result, given how honest the widget is.

For instance, when I tried it at one of the current Clothes Horse retailers, Five Four Jeans, I was told that a pair of jeans would fit “just right” for the waist, hips and inseam… but “very tight on the rise.”

And the next size up was “very loose” on the waist, yet still “a little snug on the rise.” Which told me that this particular style probably wasn’t right for me.

Speaking of participating brands… Other than Bonobos and Five Four Jeans, Clothes Horse is live on other sites like Frank & Oak, Duke & Winston and Modus Man. And discussions are currently underway at larger retailers.

Plus, Clothes Horse is also working on developing a full shopping profile for users that’s based on brands that you like on Facebook. And eventually, you’ll be able to take this profile with you as you shop across the web.

Sounds good. Now, if only Clothes Horse teamed up with Fits.me’s robotic mannequin that Louis Basenese discussed back in July. Then the days of online shopper’s remorse would certainly be behind us for good.

Good investing,

Justin Fritz


Justin Fritz

, Executive Editor

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