Shopping for clothes online has always been a game of chance. You can fill the checkout cart with sizes that have fit just fine since New Kids On The Block went on their reunion tour. And yet, what shows up on the doorstep can be a head scratcher: T-shirts that fit like crop tops, capris that shelter your ankles from the sun and wild accusations that your decades-long medium needs to be a XXL.
Lara Mazzoni has had her share of struggles with online shopping. Depending on the brand and outfit, her sizes ran the gauntlet from extra small to extra large. But poor-fitting clothes weren’t the only problem. She realized the retail industry’s return system is severely out of style.
“On average, after inspecting an item, processing refunds, re-labelling and putting it back on the rack, every return adds up to two hours of labour,” says Mazzoni. “And that doesn’t even include shipping.”
A recent survey found retailers are seeing as much as 30 percent of their stock being returned, a problem only exasperated by “bracket buying” — the practice of buying multiple sizes, and returning the ones that don’t fit. Each year, Canadians return $46-billion worth of goods, and much of it ends up in landfills. And all those returns cost retailers 21 percent of an item’s original value. In response, retailers, such as Uniqlo and Abercrombie & Fitch have added surcharges to online returns to recoup some of those costs.
Mazzoni, who has years of tech sector experience, has designed a tailored product to help address this problem. In 2014, she launched Bodi.Me, a service that harnesses AI and machine learning to make sure online clothing orders fit properly the first time. The company’s software, Size-Me, asks users a few questions about clothing preferences, and then uses machine learning and proprietary algorithms, sizing up customers with Savile Row precision.
The result? The potential for clients to cut returns in half, reduce the amount of clothing ending up in landfills and get an estimated 10-fold return on investment with an average ready-for market launch time of just two weeks. But despite the clear benefits, Mazzoni found that convincing the world’s leading luxury brands was a challenge.
“My co-founder was the CEO of Burberry Spain who knew everyone in luxury fashion in Europe. We were going to Paris, London, Madrid — everywhere,” she says. “But we were laughed out of every meeting by brands who thought they knew more than what we were offering.”
Mazzoni and her team then quickly pivoted from the catwalk to uniforms — with lucrative results. “Uniform companies have tiny profit margins, so it was an easy decision for them,” she says. “If my company can help them cut returns by half, that’s a huge amount of money back in their pocket.”
Since this shift, Bodi.Me has helped its clients land massive contracts with the U.K.’s National Health Service, the Royal College of Nursing, the East Midland Railway, Marks & Spencer, travel companies and even uniforms for the tens of thousands of volunteers at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
As Bodi.Me focuses solely on online orders, it was well positioned to help companies fill uniform orders when COVID-19 negated the in-person process. Now, another global event has Bodi.Me rethinking its business expansion strategy. “Brexit has psychologically impacted our European clients,” says Mazzoni. “We were pitching a big job during the transition, and a German client preferred to work with a German competitor because they were EU-based.”
So, Mazzoni and the Bodi.Me team have teamed up with MaRS and Innovate U.K. to learn what it takes for a London-based company to get a foothold in the North American market. “Working with MaRS is all about building relationships and trust, and really understanding what it’s like to do business on this side of the Atlantic,” says Mazzoni. “We want this market to understand who we are, what we do, and what our benefits are compared to a competitor’s solution. We’re here to stay.”
Mazzoni also had the opportunity to meet with Canadian uniform suppliers — vital contacts for Bodi.Me’s entry into the North American market. Now, Mazzoni’s staff are working to make sure its technology gives them the competitive edge, whether it’s landing business in London, U.K. or London, Ont.
“Since we’re in the early stages of machine learning, things will be improving tremendously in the next few years, so we need to be ahead of the game on that, there’s upgrades every few months,” says Mazzoni. “It’s what I like about Bodi.Me, there’s always something new going on.”
Learn more about how MaRS and Innovate U.K. are bringing new breakthroughs to Canada.
Photo credit: istock, Lara Mazzoni