Fashion Product Managers Solve The Problem Of Clothes That Don’t Fit

Getting clothes that fit has always been hard to do
Getting clothes that fit has always been hard to do
Image Credit: S Pakhrin

In the world of fashion, product managers understand that their customer’s #1 driver is that they want to look good. However, it turns out that there is something else that can determine if a customer will purchase the products that we offer to them: if they fit. This has always been a challenge for product managers and as the world has moved to making purchases online, fashion product managers have seen this problem grow even larger. What’s a fashion product manager to do in order to get their products to fit?

Problem Solutions That Customers Don’t Want

Over at Japan’s Zozo their founder became a billionaire with Zozotown, a fashion website that dominates online clothing sales, selling more than 7,000 brands and catering to young, fashion-forward customers. Last year, the product managers at Zozo took on their product development definition and tackled one of the biggest problems in online fashion retailing – the difficulty of getting the right fit for clothes – by offering customers a free bodysuit covered with sensors and an app that uploaded their body measurements to the company. The idea was that customers were meant to use it to order custom-fitted clothing produced by Zozo’s private brand.

So I think that we can all agree that this must have seemed like a really good idea. The goal was to improve on an array of solutions created by other retailers for getting fit right in online fashion. What had been tried were smartphone apps for body scanning, digital avatars, virtual comparisons with clothes in customers’ possession. Most recently Amazon had created its Prime Wardrobe service, which allows members to try on a selection of clothes at home and return those that don’t fit. The problem with the Zozo solution was that the Zozosuit didn’t spark higher clothing sales. In large part, many of their customers felt the suits were simply too cumbersome to use, given that they were mostly ordering casual clothing that didn’t need a perfect fit.

This experiment was not without a downside. The cost of the suits, plus free delivery, helped drive down profits by 20% two years ago – the first annual decline since the company’s shares went public. Clearly this would not look good on anyone’s product manager resume. The company’s stock price fell by half. The product managers recently scaled back the project. It had been seen as a way for Zozo to expand overseas. Going forward they will provide the Zozosuit only in Japan and only for ordering high-end items such as men’s suits. The thinking is that these customers want a more precise fit. They have not abandoned the idea entirely. Since then Zozo has introduced another high-tech product focused solely on foot measurement.

Lessons Learned

The product managers had wanted to provide clothes that perfectly fit any body shape, but honestly it didn’t work out very well. What they discovered is that there are a lot of people out there who feel like “close enough” is all they need. Of course, customers are going to want a perfect fit if you order formalwear like a business suit or formal shoes. What the Zozo product managers realized was that since they mainly sell casual clothing, their customers weren’t looking for precision so much. It turns out that what a lot of people say is, “I’m not asking for something order-made down to the millimeter, but I’ve always wanted something between small and medium.” The result of this discovery is that the Zozo product managers are just beginning a new project to have on hand 20 to 50 different sizes. The good news for customers will be that you don’t need a Zozosuit to pick the right one. Customers will only have to input their height and weight, and on Zozo’s side they will make certain assumptions about body type and recommend a Zozo product.

Although it may not initially be clear, the Zozosuit was an important step for the company to take. If it hadn’t been for the creation of the Zozosuit, they wouldn’t have reached that idea of offering 20-50 different sizes. Additionally, the Zozo product managers have not given up on the Zozosuit. They are still working on improving its accuracy and also trying to broaden the use of it to areas beyond clothes. These extra uses could include areas such as fitness and the medical field. When they gave Zozosuit a try in the U.S., what happened was that a lot of customers, instead of using it to buy clothes, used it to manage their health. They used it to keep track of their diets and workouts by using the suit to measure how their bodies change over time. People from around the world are reaching out to the Zozo product managers to get their hands on Zozosuit data. The product managers see high demand in the U.S. because people there have relatively high BMIs, so they’re especially aware of their health.

The Zozo product managers are not just sitting around. They have plans for the future. This fall, they are introducing Zozomat, which combines a smartphone app with a special paper mat that has markers that enable customers to take 3-D scans of their feet. The goal is to be able to work with fashion brands in order to offer custom-sized footwear based on those scans. The question that the Zozo product managers are facing is trying to determine if Zozomat will avoid the problems the Zozosuit had. The thinking is that Zozomat is made of paper, so it’s cheap to make. It costs less than $1 per mat. On the other hand, Zozosuit cost about $9.25 per suit. The Zozo product managers can get Zozomat out in the market widely in no time, whether it’s sending it via the mail or running it in the newspaper as an advertisement. Also, measuring a customer’s foot is easy. The customers don’t have to take off their clothes or put anything else on. They only have to put their foot on the mat and take pictures. The Zozo product managers are anticipating that the need is higher for a good shoe fit.

What All Of This Means For You

Nobody ever said that working in the world of fashion would be an easy thing to do. However, some product managers find themselves working in that industry and they need to try to find ways to use their product manager job description to make their product more popular. One of the biggest challenges for any customer who is considering making a high fashion purchase is if the outfit that they want will fit them. Many different ways have been tried to solve this problem, but with the arrival of online shopping the need for a solution has grown even greater.

Over at Zozo, the Japanese fashion house, they thought that they had come up with the perfect solution for making sure that their customers purchased clothes that were the right size. The product managers offering customers a free bodysuit called the Zozosuit that was covered with sensors and an app that uploaded their body measurements to the company. This product failed – it turned out that customers just want a close fit, not necessarily a perfect fit. The Zozosuit did teach the product managers that customers wanted more choice and so they have introduced more size options. Additionally the Zozo product managers are preparing to introduce the Zozomat in order to help people make accurate measurements of their shoe size.

The Zozo product managers are showing that they are great at innovation. They have studied their customers and they understand what their needs are. Their Zozosuit was not a well-received product, but that’s ok because they used it to learn more about what their customers were looking for. The Zozomat is cheap and so even if it is not successful, it should not hurt their bottom line that much. This kind of innovation is what is going to allow Zozo to stay on top of the fashion market.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: After the Zozomat, what is the next product the Zozo product managers should introduce?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

One of a product manager’s hardest tasks is to come up with a price for their product. Our goal here is to use our product development definition to pick a price that will maximize revenue for our company while at the same time not scaring away our customers. We’ll create a price and then we’ll watch and see what happens. If we see sales start to go down we’ll quickly step in and perhaps run a sale or a promotion in order to offer our product at a lower price. However, if this doesn’t fix things, then we’ll have to lower our price. What product managers need to understand is that there is a pricing trick that they can use to make their products more desirable.