The tyranny of averages

Is universal sizing really the way to solve UK fashion retail’s mounting product returns problem?

I applaud any initiative that seeks to reduce the number of returns back to retailers and brands. The scale of the problem is huge, with figures for the UK running at £60bn a year. And that doesn’t even really take in the true cost of the problem because no-one has attempted a calculation that embraces the whole supply chain, from sourcing to final disposal.

The retailers that are getting together to create universal sizing are all household names and certainly have the clout to get something done.

My concern is that it isn’t going to work. Here’s why:

One size fits no body

True Fit, which has dedicated itself to helping people to find clothes and shoes that they will keep, talks about the Flaw of Averages. You’ll need to register for the report but it’s worth it. Simply put, if you create average sizing, you’ll end up with products that don’t fit anyone.

Universal sizing messes with your brand in really bad ways

I once bought an XXL shirt from Paul Smith and it is tight on me. I’m just not a core or even peripheral Paul Smith customer. That’s OK with me. Should Paul Smith want to include me, he risks alienating all his loyal customers who know what XXL really means to them.

Competition is against this initiative working

These retailers are operating in a competitive market so they want the flexibility to source widely and make changes often. Imposing universal sizing on multiple manufacturers is impossible, unless you are Zara and control your own supply chain.

Universal sizing is anti-choice

I get why retailers want universal sizing; this is about cutting returns, but do consumers really want it? Any researcher can get the answer they want if they ask the right question. Hell, we got Brexit because someone asked the wrong question, but I believe consumers are happy to invest the time it takes for them to find their perfect fit. They do want to go on the journey and retailers and brands just have to keep making it easier and more rewarding.

Modern fabrics already take us into account

The Daily Mail says we are getting taller and bigger in the bottom. Speak for yourself. But we already have Lycra, elastane, spandex, fleece, while jersey has been around for almost 100 years, so building expansion and contraction into clothing has provided greater choice for consumers as well as a whole generation of new styles that enable us all to rock any body shape.



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