How Hawes & Curtis reduces returns using a virtual fitting room

Online returns is becoming an increasingly difficult challenge for retailers, as free shipping and returns encourages customers to order multiple sizes to try on in the comfort of their home, before sending back the unwanted items.

Last week, research from Barclaycard stated 30% of customers deliberately over-purchase because they can easily return unwanted items, while 60% of retailers are negatively impacted by this eCommerce trend.

Head of eCommerce at Hawes & Curtis, Antony Comyns, he said one of the biggest challenges he has faced in the last few years is how the retailer has substantially increased its product range.

"We started with a big loose shirt, a classic fit, typical for the city market," he told Essential Retail. "Back then, people didn't really mind if it was a little loose, but as time goes on, men want the shirt fit to be perfect – almost as if it was tailor made."

Comyns described how the retailer introduced a number of different fits over the years, including tailored, slim fit and extra slim fit.

"Evolution has just been necessary, but has meant we have to make a hell of a lot more shirts to get the perfect fit and it is a little more complex to explain to the customer," he said.

Around six years ago, Hawes & Curtis partnered with a start-up company, called, to create a virtual fitting room on the retailer's website. Being one of the vendor's first customers, Hawes & Curtis has been on a journey with the new technology, from what Comyns called "looking at your clothing on a robot" to a "softened" and more natural experience for the customer.

The technology allows customers to virtually try on the piece of clothing they are browsing online, using a white-labelled portal. And after quickly entering body measurements they can see how the item should look on their unique body shape.

Hawes & Curtis sends new products to to photograph and digitally replicate in its virtual fitting room, but Comyns explains it does not need to send every colour variation, only size, as patterns can be replicated in the solution.

Comyns said during one of the first meetings with the company suggested its product would help the retailer sell more shirts as it shows customers how the product would fit. While the solution does improve conversion rates, Comyns believed it would actually reduce its return rate as customers are more confident in their purchase.

"They can use this and be confident to buy and not worry too much about returns," he explained, noting how this was especially important for its international customers.

At first, Hawes & Curtis' return rate dropped substantially from its already low rate of 4% to 2.99%. "It's gone back up because now we sell trousers, jackets and have a lot more stock, but that was a real major selling point."

Comyns said, aside from returns, the solution helps the retailer capture much more data about its customers. "Everyone is putting their data in, whether they buy or not," he said. "And we're recording data on peoples' sizes."

He said the retailer has been able to use the data collected on to understand if there was a style of shirt missing from its range.

"In our journey to introduce slim-fit shirts, we knew from customer feedback the shirts were too big, but by coincidence, also said that's what we needed, so it backed up the reason to introduce them."

Being's first retailer, Comyns said the integration was really easy and the two companies could trial new versions by working together. "We took that pain a couple of times," he said.

The vendor – which was acquired by Rakuten last year – is now offering the virtual fitting room for womenswear, but Comyns said this is a much more difficult proposition due to the variations in body shapes.

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