Germany backs virtual dressing rooms to prevent online returns

The problem with returns is not only bothering online retailers but also environmentalists: the constant sending and receiving of parcels is increasing climate change because of the increased emission of greenhouse gasses. The problem is becoming more and more urgent in view of the steadily increasing online turnover. For this reason, the German federal environmental foundation (DBU) is now supporting the development of virtual dressing rooms for online shops.

Digital solutions to achieve ecological and economic goals

The DBU is planning to contribute almost 445,000 euros to a project that wants to get the returns problem under control. It involves the German Institute for Textile and Fiber Research and IT companies Assyst and Avalution, the latter founded by the Human Solutions Group in November; the former also belonging to it. "Buying clothes online is part of everyday life for many people. If the project is successful, it will be an example of how digital solutions can achieve ecological and economic goals at the same time. The more returns that are avoided, the more relief for the environment," explains DBU secretary general Alexander Bonde in a press release.

Germans currently buy around 20 percent of their clothing on the internet. But 25 to 50 percent of clothing ordered online is returned. Retailers make it easy for consumers: returns are free of charge and part of the online business. But the many returns not only pollute the environment because of transport emissions but become a problem when packaging gets damaged and the merchandise cannot be resold because of it. Since packaging material is expensive, intact goods are even destroyed, as recent scandals at Amazon, H&M or Burberry have shown.

The world's largest database of human body scans

Avalution wants to reduce the number of returns by allowing customers to try on clothes virtually. This avoids receiving orders of the same product in different sizes. Instead, the customer will receive a digital copy of his or her body - a so-called avatar - a three-dimensional, digital mirror image that corresponds exactly to the customer's body measurements. So instead of a real fitting, the avatar will be able to try on the garment in the future and judge which size is the right one and whether the garment fits the customer's figure. "We have the world's largest database of human body scans. Based on this data, we create avatars using just a few details, which the customer can easily customise," says Avaluation’s managing director Michael Stöhr, who was previously director of fashion management systems for the Human Solutions Group.

Customers to realise ecological impact

In addition, the project is developing an approach to make the impact of different purchasing decisions on the environment transparent to the customer. At a glance, the customer should then be able to see that the environmental impact of ordering several sizes for selection is significantly greater than when he or she opts for just one size.

This article was originally published on FashionUnited DE; translated and edited by Simone Preuss.



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