A research project is underway in Germany to develop a software solution to improve size and fit predictions in online shopping – and reduce the amount of clothing that is unnecessarily returned and recycled.

The Project ECOmmerce initiative aims to create a new tool based on one of the world’s largest databases of human body scans. It is being developed jointly by Avalution and ASSYST (both part of the Human Solutions Group) and DITF Denkendorf, the German Institutes of Textile and Fiber Research. It is being funded the Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt (German Federal Foundation for the Environment).

“We want to start at the beginning of the ordering process and develop a solution that allows customers to avoid ordering different sizes for trial fitting,” explains Michael Stöhr, managing director of Avalution GmbH. “The reduction of these 100% returns alone can considerably reduce the load on the environment.”

The companies point out that 86% of online retail returns are due to size and fit issues. And with online shoppers often ordering several sizes to choose from, it’s a guarantee that some of the garments will be returned.

If nothing fits, everything is returned – and according to a study by the EHI Retail Institute, the rate of returns is between 25% and 50%, depending on the product. Customers say sizing and fitting problems are behind 86% of returns, with these significantly higher than “I don’t like the garment” returns (68%).

Avalution uses what it says is the world’s largest database of human body scans (it contains the measurements of around 100,000 people) to provide consumers with an individual recommendation for the right size when ordering clothing online. The customer doesn’t have to take his or her own measurements.

“We only ask four simple questions – and we use the answers to create a statistical avatar that the customer can alter and adapt even more,” Stöhr says.

The role of CAD specialist Assyst in the project is to make the most of synergies that arise from the simulation of clothing in 3D. Its 3D Vidya tool bases a digital design on a real cut, so the clothing simulation contains valuable information that can be used for digital fitting.

A sustainability assessment is also being developed at the DITF Denkendorf as part of the project. Before customers complete their order, it will show how their purchasing behaviour will affect the environment. The customer can then see at a glance that ordering several sizes for selection is much more damaging to the environment than choosing just one size.

“We want to merge the expertise of Avalution, Assyst and the DITF to create a completely new shopping experience for customers in online shops. They’ll be able to find a perfectly-fitting product much faster. At the same time, the effort involved in returning goods is reduced, lightening the load on the environment – and that’s also an important further development for e-commerce,” Stöhr concludes.

The project has a duration of two years and will end in July 2020.