Mathematics with Business Applications
Business Math in Action
A Virtually Perfect Fit
Fashion designers are in a race against time. Seasons change quickly and so do styles, which means designers must constantly come up with fresh ideas that can be worn each season. If a new trend suddenly explodes, designers have to scramble to keep up. They must design new clothes and get them manufactured-fast. Sometimes as little as two or three weeks lag time in processing customers orders can mean the difference between making and losing money.
The most time-consuming part of the clothing industry is manufacturing the garments. It takes about 27 weeks to have garments made in the Far East, and six weeks in the U.S. The finished garments are shipped to distribution centers, and from there they are trucked to retail stores across the nation. When the clothing finally lands at your local store, it must be unpacked, priced, security tagged, and finally folded or placed on hangers.
One way to shortcut the process is to deliver garments directly to consumers, bypassing the store altogether. In the past, companies did this through mail-order catalogues. When the Internet became popular in the 1990s, stores could advertise their clothing online as well as in catalogues. Ideally, shopping for clothes online would be more dynamic and interactive than looking at catalogues. Above all, clothing sites might be able to overcome the biggest problem with mail-order clothes: getting the size right without being able to try on the garment. Enter the virtual dressing room.
Virtual dressing technology allows you to create a virtual self by entering your weight, height, and other dimensions. A model based on these dimensions will then show you how a piece of clothing will look on your body type. You can view how long a jacket might hang or how the neckline of a sweater might look on your body as opposed to that of the skinny catalogue model. On some sites, your virtual model will rotate so you can view the item from the side and back as well as the front. Its a big improvement over traditional sizing charts.
Still, the virtual dressing room has not solved all the problems of online shopping. About a third of all clothing bought online is returned, usually because the buyer didnt like the way it fit. Consumers also dislike the hassle of having to ship items back to the retailer, and theyre frustrated with not being able to judge the quality of the fabric, how it feels, or what its true color is. When a customer returns an item, the retailer must spend more money to have it packaged again for resale. The worst part for retailers is that more than half of all customers who return a garment will never shop at that site again, according to a study by iMarketing News.
Lands End is among the most successful of the online clothing retailers. Its virtual dressing technology has improved the companys online sales, and shoppers who use the program tend to make larger purchases than those who dont. Customized garments, such as monogrammed jackets, account for 40 percent of LandsEnd.coms business. Because bricks-and-mortar retailers (that is, stores you can walk into) dont want to bother with customizing garments, LandsEnd.com was able to fill a consumer need. If other retailers can discover similar niches, they too might find that online sales are worth the risks.