Simply everything can be bought online nowadays. From mass production products to specific niche products. However, about a third of all online transactions are returned (1). Buying online can result in certain disadvantages compared to buying in an actual store, one of which is the impossibility to physically hold the product, which can in the case of online clothing retailers, result in product returns. E-commerce clothing retailers like Zalando and Wehkamp.nl use a lot of different kind of recommendations to help the customers make satisfactory choices.
When buying clothes online, a customer can not try the article behind his/her computer screen. A customer will not know if the fabric is what the customer wants or how the product will actually look when he/she wears it. Does it look fancy? Slobby? Casual? Formal? And most of all, a customer will never be sure if the clothing actually fits unless he/she tries it on. This disadvantage has to do with the fact that clothing is an experience product characterized by the attributes that need to be experienced before the purchase, like taste, softness or fit (2). According to Xiao and Benbasat (2007), the use of recommendation agents influences the choice of users to a greater extent in the case of these products. What kind of recommendation agents do Zalando and Wehkamp.nl actually have to help customers choose?
Both of the companies use filtering systems, ratings from other buyers and algorithms for the most popular products. Zalando as well as Wehkamp.nl also have extra features to help experience the products in an online setting. Wehkamp.nl has a nice feature where women can see which dresses fit their figures.
Figure 1: Dress guide Wehkamp.nl http://www.wehkamp.nl/inspiratie/emagazine/magazine-april-2014/jurkenwijzer/
A customer can see different kind of figures with examples of dresses that would fit that type of figure (see figure 1). A customer can even click through to the webshop with more recommended dresses that will fit a certain figure.
At Zalando a customer can look at different clothing styles and click through to the webshop with recommended clothes in that specific style (see figure 2).
Figure 2: Style guide Zalando http://www.zalando.nl/styles/#conMale
Although online clothing retailers like Zalando and Wehkamp.nl have a lot of ways to recommend the right products to their customers, a full experience won’t be feasible with the technology that is currently available. The hurdle of not knowing whether a dress actually fits or not will stay the biggest disadvantage of online clothing shopping. Online clothing retailers have nothing else to do than just let customers send their experienced products back to the online store for free.
(2) Xiao, B., and Benbasat, I. (2007). E-Commerce Product Recommendation Agents: Use, Characteristics, and Impact. MIS Quarterly, 31(1), 137-209.