Fashion retail – what’s the difference between a size 10 and a size 10?

What size are you looking for?’ is a question that is losing your fashion retail chain sales. Don’t get us wrong, size is important, but it is second to body shape in the factors that will result in a customer visiting the cash register and keeping their online purchase.

To demonstrate why, we enlisted a couple of volunteers who agreed to help us in exchange for their headless anonymity!

Let’s take a look at the first. Both tops in the picture are size 10. Which do you think she is more likely to buy? For online retailers, the more pertinent (and costly) question, is which of these is she least likely to return?

If you think the stripy one, then I agree (as did the volunteer). Here’s why. As you know from a previous blog, I’m not a fan of describing women’s bodies in terms of fruit or basic geometry. Our body shape is much more nuanced than that*. Under that system, this volunteer would probably be called an ‘hourglass’. In reality, her hips are a tiny bit wider than her shoulders (put away that fruit bowl, that doesn’t make her a pear!) and her waist is defined in relation to her bust.

* Imagine trying to give a name to more than 4,000 female body shapes that HOLM’s system accommodates

The top that most complements our volunteer is the one that balances out her figure. The detailing on the neckline and the bust-level sleeves on the stripy top give the impression of slightly wider shoulders. The stretch material accentuates a naturally slim waist. On the other hand, the detailing on the hem of the white top makes her hips look wider and the stiff material obscures her waist completely. That’s not to say it’s a bad top, it would look great on a ‘rectangular’ body shape.

Here’s another example with a different volunteer. Again three size 10 dresses. Which one do you think she returned?

The blue denim one? Right. Our volunteer’s shoulders are more narrow than her hips and she has a great waist. The first two dresses skim over her hips and draw in at the waist, complementing this. Conversely, the blue dress clings to her hips and looks boxy at the waist. Neither does the length complement her height.

So, why are fashion retailers ignoring body shape?

We can see that helping a customer choose clothes according to body shape, is much more effective than shoving a rail of size 10s in their general direction. However, there is a misconception in the fashion retail industry that capturing a customer’s body shape is expensive and difficult, involving either costly technology or inaccurate results.

I was the first personal stylist in the UK to invest in a 3D body scanner – over ten years ago now. I can tell you that women hate the experience. Who wants to strip down to their underwear and step into a box resembling a Star Trek portal?  At the other end of the scale we have retailers asking customers to guess their shape, with inaccurate results. Women, in particular, are terrible at this thanks to decades of media pressure telling us our bums are bigger than they actually are. From my own research, two thirds of women get it wrong!

So, we have an initial hurdle of gathering data, then there’s the question of what to do with it. How do you point the customers to the right garments?

This problem can be solved with a personal stylist, but this is a highly skilled job requiring lengthy training and an equivalent pay scale. Certainly not the c£8.50 an hour I read advertised for ‘stylists’ by a well known Department store, which is another problem altogether. How good is that stylist helping you? On top of this, with store staff getting cut or reduced to ‘click and collect’ minions, access to the necessary skilled personnel has become a rarity.

This is why I founded HOLM. An express styling service which transforms normal sales assistants into highly productive personal stylists with minimal training. All they have to know is how to use a tape measure and our algorithms point the customer to the right clothes.

About HOLM

HOLM’s in-store personal styling technology matches clothes to customers depending on their body shape (one of more than 4,000 body shapes for women alone). Its USP is accurate recommendation from the off. Following a two-minute measuring process by your sales staff, shoppers are presented with a ranking of garments guaranteed to make them look great, not simply fit.

The result? Delighted, loyal customers who promote their experience by word of mouth; a thriving bricks-and-mortar store and a customer profile (data set) that boosts sales across all channels. Happy and motivated staff too, hitting their targets using an application that’s been carefully designed for simplicity and ease of use.

To find out how HOLM’s in-store personalisation technology will fit seamlessly into your retail infrastructure contact or visit the website for more details: