Jeff Bezos, call me.
Everyone loves shopping online. Retailers love selling online.
For buyers, the selection is unparalleled, there is something for everyone and every budget, and you never even have to leave home.
Thanks to online shopping, retailers can reach a wider market than ever and sell their goods to all and sundry, without the hassle and overhead of a brick-and-mortar establishment. The relative ease of fulfilling orders often trumps the expense and management responsibilities of a sales staff.
The only fly in the ointment, the only trouble in paradise, is a massive upsurge in returned goods that are still sellable, but markedly reduced in retail value by rough handling, slow returns or missing pieces of the original packaging.
A cottage industry of liquidators has charged into this growing void. These companies buy returned items in bulk, bidding on tightly-packed pallets of mystery merchandise originally destined for a bigger and better MSRP.
Now, I like a good deal as much as the next person. But I know how to stop many of these returns before they start. And since the manufacturers of these items are not as likely to sell their product at a substantial loss as they are to raise prices on the rest of the things I buy, I’m ready to tell Jeff Bezos.
The secret to more successful online purchases, at least as it pertains to clothing in general and women’s clothing in particular is a simple one:
Use models of every size to showcase clothing online.
A women who is a size 8- a far more average size than a 0 or a 22- seeing a dress she is considering buying modeled by a woman who is also a size 8, gets a great deal more information about how the clothing item might fit.
Seeing models in every size would help people of every size, especially women, make better decisions about the clothing they buy online. Women in particular suffer from something insidious which has been plaguing the fashion industry for ages:
The Models of Every Size idea is a doing, and an exciting idea; but it is mostly an undoing.
Women have been the unwilling fashion victims of a sliding-scale sizing system that varies so widely from brand to brand, even style to style, women have a much harder time than men buying clothes that fit.
For instance, men generally buy pants based on two scientifically acceptable measurements that never, ever change: waist circumference and length of inseam, usually in inches.
Women’s sizing is far more complicated.
Often, what women buy online is much the same as they might take into a dressing room. Depending on the woman, 1 in 5 or even 1 in 7 items might fit, depending on the item of clothing. Fitted garments, for instance, are somewhat harder to fit than a loose-flowing blouse.
Buying something very fitted- like a bathing suit- is well nigh impossible. Which brings us to the making the world a better place part.
Young people, and especially women, need better messages about their bodies from the people who sell them things.
Body image issues are a terrible thing for a young person to face. In a world long plastered with airbrushed and photoshopped models, there has been a surfeit of messages about how women and girls are supposed to look.
Problem is, of course, not all women conform to these narrow standards. A somewhat homogenized appreciation for beauty is a product of our celebrity-worship culture; but there are a many different types of beauty. Women who do not have classically European features, women who are not 18 and differently-abled women are also beautiful.
So are women who are not a size 0.
Plus-sizes have better representation than the average woman who is a size 12. Women shopping for clothing online, with a few exceptions, are shown two models, if that- one a size 2 and one a 22.
This is a problem.
The coat that looked great on the model who was 5'9" and wearing a size extra-small, wouldn’t look the same on a model who was 5'6" and a size 8: So the size 8 wouldn’t bother buying it. She would look for a different one that suited her sizing comparison better.
Most customers buying clothing online are doing so for the sake of convenience. They do not want to go through the inconvenience of returning something and trying again. Most of us want to keep the things we buy and get it right the first time.
Showing models of every size for a sizing comparison would serve another very important function as well- this one long term. Clothing manufacturers might start designing more great-fitting clothing for regular women, or develop new fabrics that move differently on the body, allowing more people to look great while wearing it.
Clothing manufacturers might also have to start being a little more uniform in their sizing. As photo shoot after photo shoot will reveal in shooting models of every size, the size 6 model will not be able to wear the size 6 in every clothing article. Sometimes she might be a 4; sometimes an 8.
Clothing manufacturers and designers might start to see how hard that makes shopping. Especially online- where we are much more likely to be doing our shopping in the foreseeable future.
Ultimately, the best gift sizing-comparison models could give us, and young women and girls of every age everywhere, is a wider spectrum for beauty standards.
That is more like in real life- where people who are beautiful in every sort of different way fall in love everyday with equally beautiful people who also look every sort of different way.
Models are cheap. It is a job they almost have to pay to do, and in a way, they never stop paying.
Even though a deep learning, A.I. algorithm can now generate completely realistic human bodies from head to toe, including outfits, giant retailers like Amazon should still consider using real models. But considering the computer-generation option exists there is no reason not to show the shoppers of Amazon a more realistic representation of women's sizes.
Of course, futurists are predicting that clothing consumers will eventually be able to scan their bodies and create 3D printed outfits in the comfort of their own homes. People will, however, still be likely to pay more for designer dud downloads.
Body styles will still differ, and wildly. No one looks good in any outfit, from any angle, at all times. Finding what works, what is most flattering, is made both easier and more difficult by the internet.
On one hand, there are vast oceans of choices, far more than you could ever see at your local mall. But fit remains an elusive problem that prevents many people from being able to benefit fully from the plethora of online shopping choices.
Since online returns are increasingly becoming a problem for retailers, who are anxious to take advantage of the online global marketplace but seem genuinely stymied as to how to make sure shoppers keep their purchases, sizing comparisons could be the answer.
Shoppers want to keep their online purchases. Returning purchases via mail is something most online buyers would prefer not to deal with. Some customers even keep their ill-fitting purchases. While this doesn’t prompt an online return that costs the seller money, it does make the consumer less likely to buy similar items online again.
Everyone wins when online shoppers can find great-fitting garments they love and keep their purchases.
With models of every size, this dream could come true.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)