Getting together on sizing

For most women’s apparel catalogers, fit problems are the primary reason for product returns-a size-8 dress from manufacturer A doesn’t necessarily conform to the same measurements as a size-8 dress from manufacturer B. But several clothing mailers are now working to standardize sizes among their vendors.

Like other catalogs, $25 million apparel and gifts mailer Faith Mountain Co. relies on detailed fit information from manufacturers. The Sperryville, VA-based cataloger maintains the information in a customer service database so that order-takers can refer to it during customer calls. But in January, Faith Mountain hired a freelance fit technician to review every apparel product for conformity.

According to catalog president Cheri Woodard, the technician works with a size-10 fit model who serves as the “Faith Mountain” woman. Standards for smaller and larger sizes were created proportionately from the size-10 measurements, and the specs were sent to the catalog’s 40-50 apparel vendors.

“And as soon as the book goes out, we start monitoring returns,” Woodard says. “If the return rate is high, we go back to the vendor” to check the apparel against the fit standards. Each season, vendors receive a review of the sales and return rates of their merchandise.

For Faith Mountain, reducing returns even 1 or 2 percentage points would add a few hundred thousand dollars to the bottom line, Woodard says. During this past holiday season, the company’s return rate hit 10%; although apparel makes up no more than 40% of the catalog’s merchandise mix, it accounted for 75% of returns. Woodard expects to see results of the fit technician program by the end of the year.

Women’s apparel cataloger Appleseed’s, which has had a fit-standardization program in place for several years, also recently hired a fit technician, says Greg Harper, vice president of merchandising and operations. The technician works with the vendors and oversees the Beverly, MA-based catalog’s quality control process, which includes sample checks and measuring merchandise when it is delivered.

“We try to create a standard for ourselves,” Harper explains. “We do some private-label merchandise, and we buy branded. You’ve just got to struggle through all that and deal with it relative to what we think a size 12 should be.”

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