30. November 2012–
Will Sweden's Virtusize solve one of online fashion's last, great problems?
Virtusize, a tool to help online shoppers choose the right clothing size, officially expanded to Germany and Austria this week, the next step in a plan to set "a global standard for size and fit".
It's an actual, obvious problem, and a big one. UPcload, a Berlin-based company also working on this problem, estimates the average return rate in the e-fashion industry is 40 per cent (other sources report between 20 and 40 per cent) and that German retailers alone spend €1billion on it per year (IBI Research).
Webcam versus wardrobe
There are a few different ways to tackle this. Virtusize, founded in Sweden in 2011, simply asks users to submit the measurements of other items in their wardrobes. True Fit in the US also uses that metric, plus age, height, weight and body shape.
UPcload and Poikos, which won two high-profile recent pitch competitions in Europe, calculate body measurements through a webcam shot and high-tech image analysis. One advantage here is that, once proven, such technology can easily move across into other applications such as healthcare (something Poikos is already considering).
It's about convincing retailers, not customers
Success depends on getting traction with retailers and manufacturers, not end customers (though it does need to be simple, quick and actually work). Merchants have to be convinced to put a branded widget on their websites, or at least sign up to use the underlying tech. Access to manufacturers' specifications makes the sizing process easier and more accurate (kind of like having access to an API).
True Fit counts Macy's and Nordstrom among early partners. UPcload, led by Sebastian Schulze and Asaf Moses, has partnered with the Otto Group and the North Face (part of the VF Corporation, also including Lee and Wrangler).
Virtusize now has about 20 partners, mostly smaller partners in Scandinavia (including Nelly.com) but also including E35 in Austria, and Stylebop and Apropos in Germany. It aims to expand to the US, and is also considering Japan.
This trio – and others such as Clothes Horse – will have a tougher time than some other business models when competing with each other. Website owners only need one clothing sizing solution. Added to that, there's some sensitivity around accessing manufacturers' specifications (their "secret sauce", as one True Fit partner put it).
Still, it's a big problem, with proven interest – and, right now, plenty of room left to move.
Featured image courtesy of Flickr user cod_gabriel