Industry Voices: Fits.Me Virtual Fitting Room
Spotlight feature: Answers from Heikki Haldre, CEO, Fits.me
Why did you found the company?
I founded the company in 2010, along with Paul Pällin who is my CTO. I saw the technology being developed at Tartu University and Tallinn Technical University in Estonia, and I immediately saw the potential. I believed that if this technology was put into the hands of a team with experience in apparel and online retailing, it could make a real difference to the retailers in the space.
What problem are you solving for ecommerce professionals and how do you know it's a real problem?
The problem we are solving is that it is a physical impossibility for someone shopping online to physically try on a garment before they buy it. In an in-store fitting room, the process of physically trying something on is straightforward and compelling. However, online shoppers have to rely on size charts, which are only really any good at recommending a ‘standard’ fit, and even then that requires the shopper to know what a ‘standard’ fit would look like on them. These difficulties form a significant barrier to purchase, which drives down conversion rates; it also ensures that return rates are desperately high because people end up buying the wrong size. We know these are real problems because the retailers freely admit so. Data is widely available that suggests average conversion rates of around 2%, and average garment returns rates of 25%. And, according to our data, the main reason for returning clothes bought online is that the size did not fit (43%), highlighting the need to address this concern. Fits.me brings the benefits of the physical fitting room to online stores. Knowing exactly how the clothes consumers are looking at online are going to fit in the real world gives customers the confidence to buy, as well as reducing the likelihood that they will need to return an item because it doesn’t fit as expected.
What aspect of the company keeps you most motivated?
It is very motivational to find yourself involved in resolving such a fundamental problem. Usually, companies devote themselves to incremental improvements; we find ourselves trying to effect a large leap forward. As well as being a huge business opportunity it feels like a huge responsibility, too.
What do your customers say they value most about you?
Retail is a very difficult business, and there is little room for sentiment. The safest assumption we can make is that, for retailers, it is about results and little else, and to focus on that. In this respect we have made a good impression because the improvements that the Fits.me Virtual Fitting Room has delivered to them are massive: we have improved conversion rates by up to 62%, and driven down garment returns due to poor fit by 77%. In doing so, we help them to maintain brand value – because customers are disappointed by their purchase far more infrequently. Those results are what people value about Fits.me.
What do you think the current big issues are for the sector? Why?
The biggest challenge in online fashion retailing is that consumers don’t trust the sizing information they see online, and with good reason: there are no universal sizing standards, and sizing can vary considerably even within a single retailer. The level of returns is inherently linked with this: if a garment doesn’t fit, the customer will return it. Returns cost retailers enormous sums of money, not only due to postage and packaging costs, which many retailers absorb themselves, but also the re-warehousing of the garment, its re-distribution, and its loss of value as any given season progresses. As more and more people shop online, the returns issue will become progressively larger because people buying online have a higher propensity to return stuff. Unless the retailers really get a hold of that problem, overall returns volumes will continue to grow disproportionately.
What are the coming challenges and opportunities you see? How are you preparing for them?
In the coming months the main challenge to us will be from new competitors emerging into the market. This is a new space, and as there is a genuine business problem to be solved here, we would be naive to think that no-one else will also try to solve it. However, there are endless opportunities for us, and if we continue to innovate we will stay ahead of the competition. Retailers are looking for ways to engage with their customers by providing an exciting online shopping experience, thus fostering brand loyalty. Online shopping has moved away from the ‘bargain hunter’ mentality, and now retailers are looking to provide a full brand experience online. The virtual fitting room provides some of this consumer engagement by tapping into exciting new technologies such as augmented reality, or look to engage with consumers shopping on their smartphones bringing a physical element to how clothes can be tried on online. Another opportunity is intrinsically linked to the data we collect, on which it’s hard to put a value at the moment. Retailers know fairly well what they do sell; what they don’t know well is what they could have sold if they’d had the right sizes in the right volumes in the right regions. We’re accumulating enormous volumes of anonymised data which could help retailers determine what sizes they should stock, in what proportions, and where they should be selling them.
If you had to summarise your view/vision in a sentence, what would it be?
To boost retailer profits and customer satisfaction by helping them to overcome the online fit problem, while minimising waste, inconvenience and disappointment.