Tuesday, February 18, 2020

econlife - The Problem With Finding the Right Size by Elaine Schwartz

Serial returners were in danger of being blacklisted when the online U.K. fashion firm, ASOS,  threatened to close the accounts of the people who return too much.

They did do it gently:

Inconsistent Dress Sizes

The reason you probably returned an online purchase was the fit:

The reason you could not predict the fit?  Because you didn’t know your size.

Assume you wear a size 26. The Wall Street Journal discovered that each of seven retailers would have sent you skinny mid-rise jeans with different measurements:

In addition to the varied meaning of a single size, our shapes are exceedingly diverse. One woman can have a 28 inch waist and 32 inch hips and another, the same waist and  42 inch hips. The pants they order could be made from a stretchy fabric, a heavy linen, a light cotton, each that fit in their own unique way.

What to do?


In the past the solution was standardization. After decades of gathering thousands of women’s measurements, an industry group came up with 27 different sizes that were compressed to a size range of 8 to 38. Commercialized by 1958, the results were used by the pattern-making industry and became a standard for modern sizing.

But then we started to get larger while sizes got smaller and less consistent. A size 14 or 16 in 1958 became the equivalent of a size 8 in 2008. Some retailers selected 000 as their smallest size or perhaps an XXXS. At the Gap you can find a range of 00 to 20 but H&M uses 2 to 32.

Now some firms have decided some of us don’t even want to hear a number that designates our size. One is using a color. Others are custom fitting. But most give us free shipping, free returning, and let us order in bulk, and send back a part of it.

Our Bottom Line: Transaction Costs

Economically defined as sacrifice, the cost of what we buy online is more than the money we pay. Called a transaction cost, it includes the try ons, the phone calls, the forms we fill out and all the hassles that relate to a purchase. Size standardization used to diminish those costs because one size had a consistent definition everywhere. Standardization helped when all railroads laid the same size tracks. Similarly, we eventually got one kind of VCR that would play a standardized DVD and of course, our weights and measures are standardized.

You can see where this is going. When something is standardized, there is less hassle, more efficiency, maybe more productivity. And when it’s not, we order multiple dresses, and jeans and shoes that increase the transaction costs of doing business online.

My sources and more: Thanks to the daily WSJ podcast for alerting me to their dress size article. Vogue also looked at the problem as did a previous econlife.

Our featured image is from Pixabay.

Ideal for the classroom, econlife.com reflects Elaine Schwartz’s work as a teacher and a writer. As a teacher at the Kent Place School in Summit, NJ, she’s been an Endowed Chair in Economics and chaired the history department. She’s developed curricula, was a featured teacher in the Annenberg/CPB video project “The Economics Classroom,” and has written several books including Econ 101 ½ (Avon Books/Harper Collins). You can get econlife on a daily basis! Head to econlife.