Mobile 3D scanning can help solve some of the biggest e-commerce challenges for footwear and apparel brands: high returns and environmental waste.
Each year in the US alone, around 5 billion pounds of returned goods end up in landfills, according to returns solution provider Oporto. Returns are especially rampant in the apparel and footwear sectors, which is predominantly due to inconsistent sizing standards across the industry. The rise of online shopping only exacerbates this issue since consumers are unable to physically try on garments before making a purchase, forcing them to purchase multiple sizes to determine which size fits them best and then return the rest. According to the NRF, the rate of returns for online purchases in the apparel and footwear category in the US averaged between 35–40% in 2020.
Returns are a major issue that retailers and brands must address as consumers continue to migrate online for their purchases. Not only do returns hurt brands’ bottom line (since product returns are expensive and most returned products do not get resold due to the costs associated with restocking and repackaging them), but they are a large reason the fashion industry is one of the leading contributors to global waste and pollution. According to Newmine, once an item is returned, it is handled by more than seven workers on average before it reaches its final destination, which is usually either at an off-price retailer or in landfill. The good news is that there are multiple opportunities to remedy the issue regarding returns, and innovators that are developing solutions to address the challenges that returns present for brands and retailers. Solving Fit with Mobile 3D Body Scanning
NetVirta, the medical industry’s established leader in smartphone 3D body scanning and the creator of the world’s only FDA approved smartphone 3D scanning app used by thousands of doctors around the world, has developed a retail focused, consumer-facing app, called Verifyt®, which allows consumers to scan themselves in the comfort of their home and receive personalized size recommendations for apparel and footwear products, based on their unique body dimensions. The adoption of this technology in the fashion industry will revolutionize the online shopping experience and dramatically reduce waste associated with returns.
Verifyt® is the world’s only smartphone-based 3D body scanning solution that can capture multiple body parts, including full body, feet, and head, allowing NetVirta to support brands with wide ranging product types. It is also the only app in the market that has close to medical grade precision and can be compared to the accuracy of a hardware scanner. The app presents a sleek user interface and intuitive tutorial experience making it futuristic, personalized, and user-friendly for the consumer. Verifyt® is available on both iOS and Android devices and does not require a depth camera, which permits vast consumer adoption and scalability.
The ability to ensure a perfect fit without the need to physically try on each item represents a massive step forward for the fashion industry and allows for a more sustainable future, since consumers do not need to worry about items not fitting and therefore will only purchase one size without the intent of returning it. 3D scanning also presents a massive opportunity for custom-fit brands, and brands looking to explore made-to-measure clothing or footwear. With access to a smartphone being the only requirement, consumers around the world can use the app to seamlessly capture and share their measurements with brands. Educating Consumers on the Impact of Returns Research also shows that brands’ return policies affect consumers' willingness to shop at specific brands, because consumers understand the frustration that comes with ordering products online only to find out they ordered the wrong size, or that the item doesn’t fit them the way they hoped it would. Of course, there are many different types of solutions out there that brands can adopt to help alleviate customer concerns with returns such as offering their customers free returns or offering the “try before you buy” method. Some companies, like Amazon and Walmart are even allowing consumers to keep their returns if the cost to return the item outweighs the initial price.
The problem with encouraging people to buy more or buy multiples with the intent of returning, is that it only adds to the negative environmental impact of returns. Sustainability is of increasing importance to consumers, but the lack of transparency around how returns add to waste and environmental damage, does not allow consumers to make sustainable retail decisions. The e-commerce industry has a bigger job to do, in terms of educating people on the impact of our activities and offering solutions that truly benefit both the consumer and the world we live in.
Reducing returns at the source, with solutions such as 3D scanning and size recommendation technology, not only benefits the environment, but also benefits business, making it more resilient and profitable over the long term. Consumers can feel confident that the clothing and footwear they purchase online will fit them, alleviating their concerns around brands’ return policies and how their e-commerce activities may negatively impact the environment. Eventually, 3D body scanning also has the potential to usher in the next generation of manufacturing, mass-customization, which operates at a much smaller scale, producing a lot less waste—a win-win for all. Ushering in Next-Gen Product Design
Taking the full product lifecycle into account, the data collected from 3D scanning can also help inform brands who their core customers are and what body shapes they should design their products for, mitigating overproduction and excess inventory, resulting in less waste and increased profits. By digitizing apparel and footwear products into 3D assets, brands also eliminate physical samples from the design process which dramatically increases operational efficiencies and reduces waste.