Lower Returns, Higher Sales: How E-Commerce Retailers Can Leverage 3D Scanning Technology
Overall, e-commerce sales rose an incredible 16 percent in 2019, capping off an excellent upward trend throughout the past decade. While the COVID-19 pandemic has only boosted this growth, certain industries have taken a tumble despite the overall increase in online traffic.
With so many of us wearing sweatpants and T-shirts every day, the fashion industry has seen sales shrink. Some retailers expect to lose as much as 25 percent of their sales this year, due to declining demand for new products and a global economic recession.
However, these declines aren't permanent, and may not be as steep as once predicted. Retail sales jumped 17.7 percent in May, revealing that as consumers return to economic activity, they intend to match their facemasks to new outfits.
The real issue is that the way we shop online has been fundamentally changed. Many shoppers still prefer in-store options, where they can try on different items to ensure the right fit. Moreover, promotional opportunities for clothing brands are harder to come by. Pop-up stores were a major trend in the 2010s, yet in an era of social distancing, how can retailers promote their products in a novel, useful way?
Consumer technology has finally evolved to the point where it allows anyone to use their smartphone to aid in shopping. This doesn’t just mean accessing mobile-optimized retail sites or even viewing products in a full 360-degree view, although that remains highly useful. The next innovation will be in adapting 3D scanning technology to consumer shopping habits.
Finding the Right Fit
One of the biggest issues for fashion retailers, since the dawn of e-commerce, has been in handling product returns. The clothing sector has the highest return rate (56 percent) of any category in online shopping. Much of this is due to the difficulty in finding a proper fit.
We’ve all had the experience of buying clothing online and finding out the item simply doesn’t fit right. One retailer's large may be another’s medium, and technical product specifications are often ignored or are simply inaccurate. This is particularly difficult for footwear, since sizing charts vary depending on country and region, and a shoe that’s even a bit too tight will be returned immediately, adding to the retailer’s overall costs.
Consumers shop in-store to ensure the right fit, yet with social distancing measures in place, the simple process of getting to a changing room can be difficult. 3D scanning can bridge the gap between consumer peace-of-mind and the actual ability for retailers to provide the perfect fit.
Modern iPhones now include user-facing sensors powerful and accurate enough to take a detailed scan of the user's height and build. By using a 3D scanning app, online shoppers can get the right specifications of their arms, legs, chest, feet, and other body parts to ensure an accurate, useful measurement is recorded into their smartphone. This information can then be sent to the retailer to use when displaying or choosing products for sale. For tailors and retailers with bespoke offerings, this data is doubly important, as it allows them to create custom products like orthotics at a lower cost than an in-store visit.
This year has brought a number of key challenges to e-commerce companies. Reducing costs associated with product returns while offering new and more convenient shopping experiences is one of the ways to gain a competitive edge, both during and beyond this pandemic.
Charles Carriere is a New Orleans native who attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he was a Morehead Scholar. He received his BA in Anthropology. After teaching for a year at the Jakarta International School, he attended the Freeman School of Business at Tulane University, earning his MBA in Finance.
Charles then joined the investment firm of Johnson Rice & Company where he worked as an analyst and institutional stockbroker. He founded Scandy and Entrescan in 2014 as a “side-hustle” and left Johnson Rice in 2017 to work more closely with the companies he started. Charles is married and has four children.