Any time someone asks me what I do and I tell them I work at an online suit and tuxedo rental company, the immediate response is, “That’s so cool!” followed quickly by, “But wait—how do you fit people online?!”
With return rates at many fashion and apparel ecommerce sites as high as 50 percent, it’s a legitimate question. Even Zappos reportedly has a return rate of 35 percent, and that’s for a category like shoes that we all wear every day and have a high degree of familiarity with our sizing. Given that, it’s easy to see how someone would think getting a great fit online for something as complex as a suit would be a difficult, if not altogether impossible, task.
But that didn’t stop us from trying. We launched The Black Tux and addressed the question about fit by offering three different options for users depending on their knowledge of their formalwear sizes and their preferences:
While this three-pronged approach was generally effective, it was far from ideal. To begin, if a user didn’t know his sizes, he was forced to either find a tape measure and a willing friend to help him take his own measurements, or worse, make a trip to a local tailor to have his measurements taken professionally, with no intention of actually purchasing anything from them. And with the ongoing trend of workplaces adopting increasingly casual dress codes, more and more guys are finding themselves in this camp of being unfamiliar with their sizes.
In addition to the measurement options being cumbersome and inconvenient, they were actually less accurate as well. Exchange rates for customers who provided measurements were 10 to 15 percent higher than those who provided sizes, which is only surprising if you assume the average person knows how to accurately measure themselves for tailored clothing.
It became clear that we needed to reconsider the fit process for our customers, and so late last year we kicked off a project to completely redesign the experience. We started off by conducting surveys and focus groups to better understand what our customers wanted most as it related to fit, and two clear (if unsurprising) themes emerged:
1. They want it to be convenient and easy to understand.
2. They want to have confidence that the process will get them a great fit.
We then turned our attention to the visual design and user experience itself as a way to address these issues. Drawing inspiration from a variety of places–including a customizable men’s cologne brand, Warby Parker’s frame finder, Typeform, Buzzfeed quizzes, and many others–we settled on a single, survey-based format that all users could use, no matter what they know (or don’t know) about their sizes. We start by asking users about their height, weight, age, body shape, and shoe size. We then ask users what, if anything, they know about their formalwear sizes: suit jacket size and length, pant waist and inseam, and shirt neck and sleeve. If a user doesn’t know or is unsure about any of these, they simply skip this step.
Whatever information the user provides is then passed through our proprietary Fit Algorithm. Built using data from hundreds of thousands of customers, our Fit Algorithm calculates the most probable size for a garment given all of the information a customer has told us. Using advanced machine learning techniques (neural networks, if you want to be obnoxious about it) that allow us to continually update our algorithm with new customer data to learn more of our customers’ fit preference patterns, we then develop a customized, comprehensive model of a customer’s likely sizes based on the preferences of customers with similar measurements and body profiles.
So, if a user skips the question about, say, his jacket size, we’ll run all the other information he’s provided through our algorithm and calculate his optimal jacket size for him. Once a user completes the survey, he’ll see all of the sizes we recommend based on the information he provided. He then also has the option to change any of these recommendations if he’d like.
We’re really excited about this redesign and the many advantages it offers compared to our previous experience. First, there’s no longer a need to hassle around with a tape measure or make a trip to the tailor. Additionally, the new flow takes significantly less time—in fact, most users complete the survey in less than 3 minutes. Perhaps most importantly, however, is that the new design provides our customers with more accurate sizes and a better fit. Because at the end of the day, that’s what this is all about.
Matt Gierl is the VP of Growth at The Black Tux.