We’re women not smoothies – the problem with fashion retail personalisation

By Cristina Holm, co-founder HOLM

Retail personalisation technology is supposed to be the magic bullet for the problem of online fashion returns. But does asking shoppers to guess their own body shape provide accurate data or a good customer experience?

The fit industry has an obsession with asking women to compare themselves to different fruits. Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

Having worked in fashion retail for 25 years, I know that women buy more if they have help to find clothes that suit them. Before e-commerce, this role fell to the shop assistant. They could offer informed advice upon seeing and talking to the customer in person. Online retailers obviously do not have the luxury of human interaction and many have turned to online surveys to gather their customers’ vital statistics.

Before I founded HOLM I spent months researching the cutting edge of personalisation software from across the globe. Most systems I tried relied on the customer to input information about their own body shape and size. Here I discuss how this methodology can result in flawed data and a disheartened shopper. 

Customers are different sizes in different shops

Most of the personalisation surveys that I tested ask shoppers to input their clothing size. As most women know, you can be a size 12 in one shop and a size 16 in another. It’s been 17 years since UK retailers clubbed together to create standardised sizes, and a lot has changed since then. I read they’re just about to do another. My view is there is a far better way, but that’s for another blog some day (or perhaps just for clients we work for). Some online surveys have tried to get around this by asking users what size they are in a particular shop, however this is still hugely iffy: our appetite for cheap and fast fashion, means pattern cutting can vary wildly, even within the same size.

What does this mean for the customer experience? When your customer is committing time to filling out an online survey they want accurate results. A question that even they know is flawed, results in loss of trust in the whole process. As one of my personal styling clients (who varies between a size 10 and 12)  put it: ‘I could have ticked the box saying I’m size 6-10 or size 12-16, it didn’t feel right to be lumped in with the sixes or the sixteens’. Plus as I’ve highlighted in another blog, size recommendation doesn’t convert the sale. The right style that complements your shape does.

Women don’t want to compare themselves to fruit

No woman wants to think of herself as a pear

Now comes the question of body shape. There seems to be an industry obsession with asking women to define themselves as fruit: pear, apple, strawberry, banana anyone? No better are the primary school geometry options such as rectangle, oval, circle. Then there’s the more creative selections such as athletic, hourglass and curvy. The problem with this ’greengrocer’ approach is threefold:

The first drawback is that there is an infinite number of female body shapes (certainly more than a fruit bowl’s worth) and  women don’t want to regard themselves as smoothie ingredients (or oblongs or curvy for that matter). The questionnaire railroads the customer into selecting an option that ‘isn’t quite right’.

The second is that, even with pictures to guide them, women are still guessing which of the limited options they best match. One of my personal styling clients categorised herself as ‘athletic’ as she did a lot of sport and had defined muscles. The reasoning made sense, but  in fact she was a perfect hourglass.

The third flaw is that years of media conditioning has given some women a skewed view of their own body shape. Another client of mine, when asked by personalisation software whether her tummy was ‘rounded, gently rounded, or flat’ chose the middle ground despite having a flat tummy, as she was so used to comparing herself to super skinny models in magazines.

So what’s to be done? Read on…

Retail personalisation software literally has to measure up

Back to basics – a measuring tape provides customer experience and accurate data

So what’s the answer? After months of researching online personalisation tools, I concluded they were literally not measuring up. Asking the customer to guess their body measurements and shape resulted in flawed data. Meanwhile, the customer experience – running from computer to mirror or wardrobe to double check what size or fruit they might be – is both lacking and time consuming.

This is why I founded HOLM – to combine a positive customer experience from the off, by ensuring precise data. Without which accurate recommendation simply cannot happen. The HOLM experience starts in-store where a sales assistant takes your exact measurements with a tape measure. The customer profile is complete in under two minutes with no guessing or stress on behalf of the customer. We’re all about tech however I’ve research body scanners for over 10 years. It’s quicker and a lot cheaper with a tape measure and the customer doesn’t need to strip. It’s also the perfect time for the store assistant to establish what the customer is looking for and capture further data that will make future personalisation even more clever. HOLM’s algorithms then process this data taking into account over 4,000 body types (for women alone), before suggesting clothes that suit the customer (using even more complex algorithms that match the right clothing styles to each body type).

The customer leaves with a profile they can confidently use in-store and online (and not a strawberry in sight!)

About HOLM

To find out how HOLM can help you gain accurate customer data and increase sales across all channels, email: cristina.holm@myholm.com or visit www.myholm.com