Sunday, 25 September 2016

FITS.ME : FUTURE TECHNOLOGY SHAPING ONLINE SHOPPING?


Online shopping automatically appears to be the simplest option when shopping for clothes, but is this really the case? Or is our society just becoming lazy?

With the latest deals and discounts exhibited on every social media site and the idea of simply searching this seasons trends within seconds; there’s no doubt about it that online shopping is incredibly enticing. Whilst all being at the touch of your fingertips, consumers now have the ability to search, select and buy wherever and whenever they want.  The convenience of home deliveries, wider variety of choice, and (often) lower prices, makes online shopping an ever-more attractive option. Some may argue that the ‘old ways’ of shopping trips are preferred, as the likelihood of returning the product is minimised due to the availability of trying on a garment before it’s purchased, and in-person visuals of how the clothing looks, and feels.  But as a society; are we becoming too lazy to make the journey to our local shopping centre, or are we simply adjusting to the recent technological advances that allow us to make a more secure decision on purchases, even though we have only virtually seen the products.

According to research, 45 percent of consumers prefer online shopping for clothing and additionally, 72 percent of consumers usually use e-commerce sites to search before making the trip to clothing stores.  However, would these figures alter if, as consumers – we were guaranteed with great fit from sizing and shape from online shopping, even though there is no ability for the customer to physically try on the garments?

Fits.Me is a relatively new software that can be installed into e-commerce websites which allows consumers to virtually ‘try on’ the garments, enabling them to visualise the fit and shape of a garment that they physically cannot try on.  Companies that use this software can then record the data from existing customers and thus collect records of their customer’s preferences, aiding in the development of latter clothing collections from the brand.  In addition, it will also help the brand that has the Fits.Me software to detect their typical consumer, and how well they are in fact grasping the attention of their target market.  This is particularly useful as they will then gain extra knowledge of what their audience prefer and be able to design suitable collections in the future to cater to the mass of their customers.  Founded in 2009, by two technology-savvy business men; Paul Pällin and Heikki Haldre, Fits.Me is now headquartered in the centre of London, where its technology is ever-evolving and is beginning to appeal to more and more brands.  The founders initially set up Fits.Me in order to evolve around their belief in ‘the respect for fit’, and controversially the belief that fit is also potentially one of the most neglected area in most online shopping experiences.  Pällin and Haldre expected that if they created a business that combated these areas then brand loyalty as well as long-term consumer value will increase and it should successfully drive a better brand experience.

According to Crunchbase, an online database consisting of investments, business firms and start-ups, in September 2010 a seed investment of $1.75 million was funded into the company to enable an improvement in software.  Five years later, Fits.Me was then brought outright with 100% stake by Rakuten Inc., one of the world’s leading internet service companies.  From confirming this incredibly important business decision, Fits.Me will benefit incredibly due to the larger funding supplies from Rakuten, allowing an increase in technological developments and research.  It will also strengthen the e-commerce offerings due to Rakuten being a lead specialist in its field of work, thus allowing the brand to accelerate their planned growth on a global scale, and start targeting brands worldwide, for example, they would be able to entice the United States, Asia and in addition; European brands.

The ‘virtual fitting room’ technology works through information provided from the company about their products; fit, stretch, silhouette and construction method (e.g. type of weave/knit, fabric choice) and combines this data with the shoppers measurements and fit preferences, to ensure the customers can see the best virtual visualisation of how the garment should look on themselves. Each garment will be encoded with its own unique set of characteristics, which will then be detected by the dynamics of consumer measurements and personal opinions.  Once a consumer selects the size that they would like a ‘virtual fiiting room’ appears were the customer can the digitally visualise the fit, and shape of the garment.  This is a much more specific representation of what the garment would look like on the payig customer, compared to regular photoshoot images that are seen on online shops which are usually flat, simple ‘invisible mannequin’ pictures.

One of the companies aim is to eliminate the stigma around ‘sizes’ and replace with ‘fit’.  This seems like an appropriate movement as the fit of a garment is one of the most important things, and nowadays consumers – especially female customers have a lot of self consciousness about what size they are and what size clothing they buy.  With Fits.Me having this motto, it may help this bracket of consumers forget about what a label says and actually consider more what they are wearing and how it makes them feel.  Fits.Me offers a recommendation feature within its programme; ‘Fit Origin’; that aids the shopper to decide which compromise is best, in order to achieve the best fit for that garment.  I believe that by having this feature it will reduce the statistical figures of returns to companies, as it will mean consumers will not need to buy and order multiple sizes of the same product, in the hope that one will fit/suit them eventually.  Due to seeing a virtual fitting on their computer screens they are then more likely to buy the correct size in the first place due to the digital mannequin adjusting to that particular customer’s personal size measurements and silhouette preferences.  In a BBC article, Mr Haldre said that as consumers will become more confident with the fit of the garment before they have theoretically tried it on, they are more likely to shop more.  "It removes the risk when buying online. And when this risk is taken away, the sales for the retailers increase. Fits.me virtual fitting room users buy almost two times more than non-users."  This statement shows that the Fits.Me software is not only beneficial to customers, but to the retailer as well as.

In today’s day and age, we - as consumers, are becoming more demanding with what is made available to us.  When we like what a company offers; its service and products, we are then more likely to reuse and revisit that particular brand and purchase more products due to the consumer relationship we have built with the brand.  Every personal measurement that consumers submit into that particular brands website is recorded and saved for future purchases, this highlights to us that customer personalization is key, as it saves the consumer time when revisiting the website, and as a lazy society that we are, this is a much appreciated feature.  These elements may bring more trust to the brands that are using the Fits.Me software, due to pleasant experience that customers had whilst online shopping, and happy customer’s means ... more revenue for the brand.  Consumers will then begin to become aware of Fits.Me’s specific software and will potentially be more likely to choose other retailers online that too have the Fits.Me software installed on their e-commerce sites.  This result will allow the Fits.Me brand to act as a pioneer between the clothing brands, which will be thus aiding shoppers to a wider variety of clothing due to the good quality service that the Fits.Me software provides.

Some retailers that have already fitted their websites and launched Fits.Me are Thomas Pink, Henri Lloyd, QVC, T.M. Lewin and Pretty Green.  “Fits.Me constantly allows us to experiment with new technological capabilities to improve search and discovery.  We encourage using the fit recommendation tool, it only takes a few seconds and statistics show that we improve conversion by 21%”. Henri Lloyd.   

Currently Fits.Me has approximately 25 million customer profiles installed into their software data accounts, with over 250 thousand garments listed on various brands sites.  They believe that the more research that is fuelled into the software, the better the technology will develop - “Science, data and fashion, all working together to create a personalized shopping experience”.  According to Mintel’s “Barriers to buying clothes online, July 2013” study, they exhibit that the second most important factor (53%) is the difficulty of finding clothing that fits well without trying it on, and 80% of consumers say that ‘when shopping online it is difficult to tell if the clothes will fit’ (“Attitudes towards browsing and shopping for clothes online, July 2013”).  These statistics show that there is a very high demand for technology; such as Fits.Me, to expand their software to popular/high street companies, so a wider audience can be reached and thus appreciate a tailored experience via online shopping.

Like many other businesses, Fits.Me have social media accounts such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.  With its main advantage being a free platform to advertise and communicate with their customers, Fits.Me use these sites to display other emerging technological innovation in fashion, as well as controversial model stories, fashion performance and robotic advances.  These may appeal to their followers as typically one may assume that their following fan base are those that are naturally interested in the brands ideologies and future happenings.  With their social media sites being hyperlinked at the bottom of every page on their website, and their website url being featured in the biographies of these social media accounts, it allows great customer access and easy transitions from one site to another.  The simple and easy-to-be-seen links make it so useful for potential customers as allows them to see what other consumers think and what the brand offers, with their morals and ideas for future development.

As a whole, I believe that the company has a great ethos behind the initial startup of Fits.Me.  Since researching into Fits.Me I feel it is now equally as important for other online retailers to provide services or features on their websites that allow consumers to help find the correct fit and size of a garment.  I understand that technological coding and advances come at a costly price, however from previous experiences of online shopping I know that it is incredibly frustrating when ordering products online hoping that they will fit by comparing size measurements and model pictures, to resulting in the items not fitting.  These bad experiences can often put off consumers from shopping with that brand, or even shopping online as a whole.  Fits.Me has proven that software like theirs is greatly beneficial, and that other e-commerce sites should make it a priority of theirs to create an increased company-to-consumer relationship, by providing similar services and software advances like Fits.Me have.



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