Mar 13, 2018
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Online fashion returns soar as shoppers lack size info

Mar 13, 2018

The rate of online returns for UK fashion e-tailers is soaring with research suggesting that inadequate fitting guidance is a major problem.

Size and fit are major problems for UK e-tailers

It’s not as big a problem as in Germany, which is the European market that returns the most items, but the UK is in second place. 

And as it launches a new interactive ‘fit finder’ tool, premium branded fashion retailer Tessuti spoke to 1,400 consumers and found that 37% say incorrect fit is the key reason for making a return, with 91% left confused by inconsistent brand sizes.

Even more worrying, despite the huge growth of the online fashion sector in recent years, 27% of consumers simply avoid buying clothes online for sizing reasons. Of course the upside to this is that 45% regularly shop in-store instead of online to make sure an item fits before buying.

Online fashion sales are estimated to have grown by 17.3% in the UK since 2012, reaching a total of £13.9 billion in 2017, or 24% of total clothing retail spend.

That means fashion is the most popular product category to buy online. But with that popularity, there’s a downside, and that’s the massive volume of returns, which add costs and logistics problems for retailers.

And with forecasts saying fashion e-sales will hit £29 billion by 2022, the problem is likely to get even bigger. You can see just how much of an issue e-returns are given than £60 billion worth of retail goods are returned in the UK and a third of that comprises items that have been bought online. Yet if only 24% of fashion is bought online but 33% of that is sent back, that’s a disproportionately large burden that e-tail ops have to bear - and that’s even with the 10% of consumers who simply don’t bother to return their unwanted goods.


So why is this happening? Well, clearly, in-store shoppers might change their minds about keeping an item, but having tried it on first they should know whether or not it fits.

For e-shoppers, buying multiple sizes and colours is the equivalent of taking many items into a store changing room.

And while the cost of paying upfront can suppress over-ordering behaviour to a certain extent, it can mean multiple successive orders being placed until the shopper gets it right. And of course, ‘try now, pay later’ services from e-tailers such as Amazon and Asos mean a shopper can now order many while only planning to keep one without worrying about paying for them first.

Tessuti said 20% of people often buy more than one size and return the sizes that don’t fit.

Many people don't know their measurements but brand size variations are also a problem for those who do

As mentioned, it found that 37% customers quote incorrect fit as the reason for making a return. And of those who return their items based on size, 55% say they’re too small and 40% too big.

In fact, 23% of men’s clothing is returned as it’s too small, while only 13% women’s clothing is under-sized. But 22% of womenswear is sent back as it’s too big, compared to just 15% of menswear. 

Children’s clothing returns appear to be closer to men’s, with 31% being made due to items being too small and 16% too big. For designer brands in particular, it’s common for smaller sized adults to purchase junior clothing, in a bid to save money.

Some 15% of those surveyed said they often pick the wrong size when buying clothes online. Some 67% use a size guide first, yet of those, 19% still get the size wrong. This suggests that these consumers are either unaware of their measurements, or that the size guides aren’t doing the job they should.

A mammoth 91% said that when buying clothes online, sizes vary depending on the brand. Of course, that’s true of clothes bought in-store too, but It highlights the difficulty shoppers face when selecting a size to purchase if they don’t have the option of trying it on first.


While 10% of shoppers don’t return unwanted goods, most do send them back and that means a costs nightmare for retailers. Tessuti said returns on average pass through seven pairs of hands before they’re listed for resale. And many are unable to be listed again, for example if they are soiled, damaged or no longer being sold. 

The retailer has launched a new Fit Finder in conjunction with Fit Analytics. It’s an interactive size guide that “asks shoppers things they are likely to know about themselves, rather than for specific body part measurements.” 

For example, when buying women’s jeans, the Fit Finder will ask for things like height and weight, belly shape, hip shape, age, and fit preference. It also considers what size a user would normally pick in other popular retailers.

An informed sizing recommendation is provided based on previous returns made by people who are a very similar shape to the details a user provides. "It tells a user how likely they are to be happy with the size recommended using this data,” the company said.

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