Returns: The Good, The Bad & The Future

The Digital Revolution

The internet has disrupted countless industries. From Blockbuster to Toys-R-Us to Tower Records, the digital revolution has not been kind to the companies that failed to adapt. Fashion and retail industries have gone through a massive transformation over the last decade alone. Ecommerce sales as a whole has grown steadily to become over 21% of total retail sales. 


Online fashion specifically accounted for nearly 30% of total fashion retail sales in 2020. This trend has further accelerated due to coronavirus pandemic when stores were forced to close resort to online shopping.


The Problem

The influx of online shopping, although more convenient has increased the frequency of returns. Consumers shopping online are over 3x as likely to return an item vs an in store purchase. Even worse, apparel alone has the highest return rate across all items bought online. Not only does this negatively impact retailer profits, it results in higher greenhouse gas emissions as well as 5B pounds ending up in landfills each year. 

What is the reasoning for this? Well it really boils down to consumer behaviour. When it comes to apparel specifically, consumers return items for the following reasons A) Fit/ size/ color was different than anticipated B) The item was damaged  C) Product was different as depicted.


These three reasons account for over 70% of apparel returns. The solution to this problem therefore has to stem directly from the main problem at hand. This boils down to better educating the online shopper on how the product will fit & look on them, before they buy it. 

Innovative Solutions 

Sizing charts: 

Although generic and pretty well implemented, sizing charts are a helpful tool (if you know certain measurements) to better understand how a garment might fit before it arrives. The problem is retailers are often inconsistent with the measurements they provide and often use the metric system vs inches. This also does not help online shoppers with understanding HOW the product will look on them.

Size Recommendations: 

What I like to refer to as glorified sizing charts, size recommendation providers such as TrueFit can sync up within a retailers website and can recommend the correct size given your proportions based on the sizing information the retailers have available. Although helpful, industry feedback shows there is no noticeable difference in reducing the frequency of returns. And again, this does not help the retailer understand how the product looks on them. 

Virtual Fitting Rooms: 

There are several variations of fitting rooms currently available in the market. They mainly stem off two different approaches: 1) Pictures of the user, or 2) An animated representation of the user i.e. Avatar. Below are the pros and cons of each.

  1. Picture

Zeekit specializes in converting still pictures and then transforming that image by overlaying the garment onto that picture. This allows the user to see how the product might look on themselves. This is useful as it is more real to the user than looking at a sizing chart when trying to make a buying decision. The only downside is that it is not interactive and can lack accuracy on the specific fit of the garment. 

  1. Avatar

Trimirror is another company in this space and focuses their solution on avatars, which are an animated representation of the user. If you are a user, and don’t mind the time required to create a profile and customize the avatar, then this can prove somewhat helpful. I say somewhat as it is really no better than seeing a garment on a picture of yourself. Both are just a generated representation of what it would look like on oneself. The avatar features are slightly more interactive than the pictures. It does however allow for certain animations such as movement which provides a unique experience for the user. The problem is the time required by the user (which is not always convenient while online shopping), and the fact that an avatar might not help one understand how the product will look on them. 

3. AR Virtual Fitting Rooms (Next Gen):

Maze AR is building the next generation of virtual fitting rooms aiming to directly solve the problems at hand, while addressing the imperfections of the current solutions that are on the market. By using augmented reality and deep learning, our solution allows for the user to see how a garment might look and fit on them, in real-time. This can be done through any camera enabled device. It requires minimal user inputs to start trying on clothing. By allowing the user to see & interact with the virtual garment via their smartphone, we aim to help them make more informed buying decisions. This will therefore reduce the frequency of returns by as much as 50%. It’s also been shown that augmented reality can boost conversion rates by up to 40% by providing more engaging UX. Although virtual fitting isn’t the same as in stores, we aim to provide the best experience possible. 

A Brighter Future 

As technology progresses and we move towards a more sustainable future, the fashion and retail industry will continue to evolve and embrace new, innovative solutions. The ones that fail to do so will join the Blockbusters, and the likes of companies that failed to innovate. By embracing innovation, we can limit our carbon footprint, reduce our waste, and look forward to a brighter future. 

Additional Sources:,the%20city%20of%20Seattle%20annually.