static1.squarespace.comTalk to any online retailer about what keeps them awake at night, and their responses might be ‘ghosts’, ‘being devoured by a ravenous grizzly’ and ‘returns’. Not necessarily in that order.

You see, the average returned purchase in the UK passes through seven pairs of hands before being listed for resale. Picking and delivering an order costs between £3 and £10, but this figure could double or treble for processing on the way back.

Specialist consultancy Clear Returns reckons that online returns cost UK retailers £20bn a year. That’s about as much fun as a wasp’s-nest lucky dip.

Returns can also be frustrating for the consumer. Any excited wedding guest who’s waited for that sparkly size-12 dress to arrive only to find that the item could be put up on the lawn and used as the marquee will agree.

Zara hates returns as much as anyone. That’s why the online fashion retailer has come up with a system for getting sizing spot-on.

Zara has teamed up with Fit Analytics – a size recommendation engine – and customers can now enter their height, weight and preferred style of fit to work out the best size. The website will save these details and automatically apply them to other shopping pages.

The sizing tool works for almost every item of clothing, apart from a few outerwear items and accessories. It can even tell you how many other customers bought that size and found that it fitted well.

Customers can add extra information, such as figure options (flatter, average, curvier), bra size and age to give an even more precise picture.

The process will mean customers won’t need to spend their lunch break queuing at the post office and Zara should increase its profit margins on each item. That’s a win-win.

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Author Chris Painter

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