- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 16, 2005

One size does not fit all. Those size 6 slacks from Ann Taylor are snug around the hips. Nearly identical pants in the same size from Jones New York are floating around the hips.

It’s a common and frustrating problem for shoppers.

But retailers are taking different measures to help customers find the perfect fit, from in-store advice to high-tech tools like virtual models and full-body scanning.

“There is no question that retailers are beginning to understand they have to get this right,” said Wendy Farina, principal at Kurt Salmon Associates, a management consulting firm in New York. “[Size] has always been a problem, but now this is being driven by the consumer … who is much more savvy and ever-demanding today.”

In a recent survey by Kurt Salmon Associates, 70 percent of women said they have difficulty finding clothes that fit them well. In addition, 81 percent saw a wide variation in size between brands, and 72 percent said a particular size within a brand is not consistent.

“Everyone is fashion-conscious today and they notice fit,” said John Mincarelli, professor of fashion merchandising at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. “If you don’t offer customers advice and counseling, you’re going to lose that customer.”

Some stores, such as the Gap, offer guidance with in-store displays that detail the fit, for example, of relaxed versus low-rider jeans.

Other companies are using technology to help the shopper determine his or her exact size in a particular brand.

A Philadelphia company has developed a body scanner that determines a shopper’s size through the use of low-power radio waves.

In just 10 seconds, Intellifit, a glass booth that looks like something out of a science-fiction movie, takes the measurements of a fully dressed person. The machine is accurate within a quarter-inch, said Intellifit President Ed Gribbin.

The technology cuts down on the errors that may occur when people take measurements manually, whether done by a professional or the shopper.

Intellifit is in about a dozen locations such as David’s Bridal, Lane Bryant and Macy’s. Once a shopper is scanned, Intellifit suggests sizes in particular brands those stores carry.

Sylvia Jasiurkowski, who usually wears size 6 or size 8 pants, would never have imagined she would be trying on a size 12 wedding dress. After stepping into the Intellifit booth at the David’s Bridal in Springfield, the high-tech machine determined a size 12 would be the best fit in the brands the store carries.

The bride-to-be said it saved her from trying on too-small dresses.

“I didn’t understand how it worked at first,” Miss Jasiurkowski said. “But I think it’s great if it can find your best size.”

Mr. Gribbin hopes to have Intellifit in at least one mall this summer and four or five more malls by the end of the year. The booths would be in common areas and be able to suggest sizes for shoppers at stores inside the mall.

There are various reasons for size variations, from the style of the garment and its fabric to the manufacturer and human error. Sometimes designers deliberately go down a size by labeling a size 10 garment a size 8 to make customers feel better.

But if clothing doesn’t fit well, a consumer isn’t going to buy it. That means it will sit on a rack and eventually be marked down in price, Ms. Farina said. And that affects a retailer’s bottom line.

Poor-fitting merchandise also results in returns, which cost apparel retailers an estimated $11 billion last year, according to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Retail Federation.

“Returns cost a whole lot of money,” said Ram Srinivasan, founder of Fitme.com, which helps people determine their size in 350 brands. “All that money can go to [a retailer’s] bottom line.”

The company’s online measuring tool called the “Size Genie” requires a shopper to input about a dozen measurements. The Size Genie gives specific directions how to take those measurements.

Once the information is gathered, the shopper can choose a type of clothing and a particular brand ranging from J. Crew or Chicos to L.L. Bean or Brooks Brothers.

The recommended size appears with a link to that retailer’s Web site. Mr. Srinivasan hopes retailers will eventually pay a monthly subscription fee to have the Size Genie added to their Web sites.

Other retailers have catered to shoppers’ size issues for years.

Lands’ End introduced a virtual model on its Web site in 1998. It has since evolved into a high-tech version of a shopper, complete with the right hair cut, complexion and body type.

“We’re really selling clothing at a distance,” said Bert Kolz, director of e-commerce for Lands’ End. “Certainly you can’t try it on so this is the next best thing.”

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