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5 UX Best Practices for Apparel E-Commerce (94% Get One or More Wrong)

Key Takeaways

  • Our large-scale apparel testing shows that there are 5 apparel best practices critical to get right to allow users to confidently make a purchase decision
  • Yet our e-commerce benchmark shows that 94% of sites get one or more of these key apparel best practices wrong
  • As a result many users won’t have the support they need from the apparel site to proceed with a purchase

Unlike physical stores, where apparel products can be handled, tried on, and physically compared to other products, users shopping apparel e-commerce sites must trust the site to provide accurate representations of their products via images and descriptions.

Indeed, the risk of purchasing an ill-fitting article of clothing is perceived as much greater when shopping online vs. when shopping in person.

When also accounting for things like delivery (and potentially) return times, it is understandable why some users are still hesitant to purchase apparel online.

Therefore, it’s critical that apparel sites provide users with everything they need to make a confident purchasing decision.

Yet our Premium research findings and e-commerce UX benchmark show that 94% of sites neglect one or more key aspects of the apparel-purchasing process.

As a result, some users will abandon an apparel purchase — simply because they don’t have the necessary information to make a purchase decision.

In this article we’ll walk through 5 UX best practices for apparel sites:

  1. Provide sufficient sizing information (94% don’t)
  2. Combine product variations into one list item (20% don’t)
  3. Use buttons for each size variation (63% don’t)
  4. Provide images of apparel products on a human model (75% don’t)
  5. Ensure product images have sufficient resolution and zoom (72% don’t)

1) Provide Sufficient Sizing Information (94% Don’t)

For apparel products, selecting the correct size is a highly important aspect of the purchase.

During our large-scale testing of apparel e-commerce sites, we observed that users can be hesitant to purchase a product if they’re not confident in its sizing.

Furthermore, if the correct size is not easily discernible, users may leave the site to find more information, risking that they do not return.

Indeed, during both desktop and mobile UX apparel usability testing, uncertainty around sizing was a common cause for abandoning a product.​‌‌‍‌‌‌‍‌‌‌‌‍‌‌‌‌‍‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‎

Moreover, a product that does not fit — whether it’s a t-shirt or an evening dress — will need to be returned, causing significant hassle and disappointment for the user and strain on the site’s customer support.

The “Size Guide” on Pangaia only lists product measurements in centimeters. Users more familiar with inches — as well as the likely majority of users who don’t know the measurements of their favorite garments — are likely to have a difficult time determining which size to purchase.

At Everlane, conventional sizing information is listed alongside numeric sizes and measurements, ensuring users have what they need to understand the sizes available.

Our Premium research findings indicate there are 10 details to get right to ensure sufficient sizing information is provided:

  1. Provide conventional sizing information
  2. Provide numeric sizing information
  3. Provide measurements in both inches and centimeters
  4. Provide international size conversions
  5. Provide instructions and tips for taking accurate measurements
  6. Ensure sizing and measurement information matches the product type
  7. Include a link to the “size guide” near the size selector
  8. Ensure the browser “back” button returns users to the product details page
  9. Include a link to customer service in the size guide
  10. Consider including measurements of human models

However, our apparel e-commerce UX benchmark shows that 94% of apparel sites fail to provide sufficient sizing information — putting themselves at risk of users abandoning the site.

2) Combine Product Variations into One List Item (20% Don’t)

Apparel product variations — typically colors and sizes, but also some other less-common variations — are key to users’ purchasing decisions.

In the product list, there are two ways to display these product variations:

  1. Variations are combined into a single list item, with the variations often indicated using swatches below the thumbnails
  2. Variations are displayed separately, with each variation — for example, shirts in different colors — having its own list item

During multiple rounds of large-scale testing it became clear that there are two major usability issues associated with product variations displayed as separate list items:

  1. Product lists can become cluttered with variations of products, overwhelming users and making it harder for them to get an overview of the product range
  2. Many users will struggle to find a particular variation of a product, especially if the variations are spread throughout the product list

“Okay, these are all the same jacket in different colors. They’re not actually different items…there’s so much usually on webpages that I don’t wanna spend all day going through everything.” Multiple list items for one product can mean that users have to spend more time working out how many variations there are, even though in the Urban Outfitter’s app (as shown here) it states that there are “3 more colors”.

On Overstock, different color variations of the same backpack made it hard for test participants to get an overview of the product range (this site lists over 3,000 backpacks). This issue is compounded by the fact that the thumbnails are shot from different angles, increasing the likelihood that users might think that the thumbnails are depicting different products rather than variations of one product.

“It’s the same shoe in different colors? What?” This participant on Thousand Fell was confused to see a single style of shoe listed multiple times with only small visual variations. Separating out visual variations into multiple listings can make the product list significantly more difficult to navigate and understand, even for small, direct-to-consumer catalog sites.

In fact, these issues are so serious that they will cause some users to abandon the site.

Therefore, apparel product variations should be combined into a single list item.

Neiman Marcus combines color variations into single list items. As a result, the product list is not cluttered with color variations, allowing users to get a good overview of the product catalog.

“Okay, it’s good that they have all the color variants shown right below the dress. So if I like some dress and if I know that there are variations I can just go on that and see them without opening it — that saves time.” Combining color variations into a single list item can save a lot of time, as this test participant on the German site Bonprix confirmed during large-scale European testing.

When product variations are combined, product lists contain only unique products, which helps users get an overview of products more easily, and users are far less likely to overlook a variation that would suit their needs.

An important prerequisite for combining variations in single list items is that the variations must be linked in the product database.

Therefore to ensure consistency sites that sell products from multiple vendors should post-process product data to link variations of unique products.

Given the severity of this issue it’s surprising that 20% of our benchmarked sites don’t combine variations of products into one list item.

3) Use Buttons for Each Size Variation (63% Don’t)

During our large-scale UX testing, we observed that, when presented as a drop-down menu, participants during testing were prone to overlook the size selector entirely.

This participant on Adidas neglected to select a size from the drop-down menu before tapping the “Add to Bag” button, resulting in an error message. Users are likely to overlook subtle drop-down menus.

Additionally, when users did activate the menu, they were often surprised or disappointed by the sizes available.

In practice, some users who overlook the size selector risk triggering an avoidable error message.

Other users must check to see if their size is available for each variation under consideration — a potentially tedious task that often leads to users simply giving up.

“It seems like the size is available, yes.” A participant on Under Armour easily determined that this hoodie was available in her desired size. The exposed size buttons make it simple to review available sizes without having to interact with a drop-down selector.

“This is clear as to what sizes there are.” On Marks & Spencer (UK), another test participant was able to quickly work out what the available sizes were, and then pick her own size easily.

Therefore, instead of using a drop-down with the size options hidden by default, expose the size options by using button-like selectors to help to ensure that these crucial product variations are easily seen by users.

Yet 63% of benchmark sites don’t implement buttons for size selection or don’t implement them correctly.

4) Provide Images of Apparel Products on a Human Model (75% Don’t)

Providing the right kind of apparel product images is essential to users’ ability to understand key visual details and make a purchase decision about a particular product.

“So this one…I don’t think it has it on someone’s back, so I don’t know anything about what size it is…I don’t want something that’s too small…if it doesn’t specify, this might be a kid’s backpack for all I know.” Without the benefit of a “Human Model” image for this item on Kohl’s, fit and relative size are difficult to judge.

“I’ll search on Google; for example, ‘Lolly’s Laundry, Eva dress’ and to see if there’s any pictures with the dress on a person. Where the person wears the dress.” When users really want to see clothing on a model, such as this European test participant on the Nordic site Boozt, there is a real danger that they could go elsewhere to find those images. In some cases, they may not return.

During Baymard’s large-scale usability testing across desktop and mobile, we observed that, for apparel products, simple “Cut Out” images of the product against a white background are simply not enough for users to get a sense of their physical qualities.

“I like how you can see what it looks like on”, noted this participant, stopping on an image of the product being worn by a model on Adidas. The provided “Human Model” images helped her form a more accurate understanding of the product’s fit and visual qualities.

“I think without the model that it’s hard to picture it. So that’s why I’m not really interested in seeing it. So I would prefer the one with the model.” The lack of an image showing a model wearing this dress in the Urban Outfitter’s app made it too difficult for this test participant to evaluate it properly.

“The pictures are great and it’s got some really good close-ups and then showing someone wearing them. It’s nice.” Showing boots on a model allows users, such as this test participant in the ASOS app, to make a better judgment of their suitability.

Instead, apparel sites should provide “Human Model” images on the product details page.

Only with the context provided by seeing the product worn on a human model’s body or face can users come close to an in-store experience, as they’ll gain a better visual understanding of the product and feel more confident in purchasing it.

Without “Human Model” images, it’s left up to the user’s imagination to try to picture how a product might look when worn — which for many users is simply not enough to make them feel confident enough to purchase the product.

“Having a mannequin in really boring clothes…it doesn’t make me want to buy this.” The bag on this mannequin on eBags failed to excite this user, who found the mannequin styling cheap and off-putting.

“I can also see the model so I can see that it’s quite large.” Showing a handbag being worn by a model answers any questions users may have about its size, as demonstrated here on Next (UK) during our large-scale European testing.

Additionally, testing revealed that mannequins or virtually rendered “models” should be considered only as a last resort, as test participants generally responded negatively to such images.

Therefore, real human models should be used whenever possible.

Yet 75% of benchmark sites don’t provide any “Human Model” images, or only provide a single image, which will not be enough to satisfy most users.

5) Ensure Product Images Have Sufficient Resolution and Zoom (72% Don’t)

Our large-scale apparel testing revealed that low-quality images drag down users’ perceptions of products.

“I wish I could get a better feel of what the materials look like up close. It should be close enough so that I can feel it just from the picture. Just no, I probably won’t buy it.” During our large-scale European testing, participants, such as this one on Zalando (Germany), frequently expressed the need to zoom in on materials and fabrics. For some, not being able to “feel” the material would cause them to abandon the product.

In many cases, having low-quality images is almost worse than having no images at all, since users are encouraged to explore a product visually — for example, by a thumbnail in the product page image gallery — but are severely disappointed when they open the larger image and find it’s grainy or pixelated.

For many users it’s perceived as if the site doesn’t care enough to provide them with the visuals they need to make a purchase decision — and thus we observe that many users will instead abandon to try and find this visual information on another site.

In particular, testing revealed 2 key issues with regards to image quality:

  1. Images couldn’t be zoomed large enough (at least 50% larger than the unzoomed image) to see details
  2. Images were low-resolution

Either of the issues can cause users to leave the product page.

“I like the automatic zoom. I can see this clearly.” This participant on Farer appreciated the level of visual detail afforded by the zoomed-in view.

“It’s quite nice that you can see it up close…see the material, yeah. That’s actually good.” Likewise, another participant on the Nordic site Miinto valued the ability to zoom in close to inspect the fabric used in this dress.

On the other hand, sites that consistently have high-resolution product images are viewed more positively by users — the site feels more polished and professional, and users are more confident purchasing products that they feel like they’ve sufficiently visually investigated.

Yet our benchmark reveals that 72% of sites don’t provide users with an adequate zoom or resolution for their product images.

Provide Apparel Users with the Information They Need to Make a Purchase Decision

Given how important the above-discussed 5 best practices are for apparel sites — which collectively concern choosing an apparel product variation and being able to visually evaluate the product — it’s striking that 94% of sites get at least one best practice wrong.

As a result, many users will experience significant friction in their evaluation of apparel products, while others will be so frustrated that they’ll leave the site altogether (as observed during testing).

Therefore it’s important to follow the following best practices:

  1. Provide sufficient sizing information (94% don’t)
  2. Combine product variations into one list item (20% don’t)
  3. Use buttons for each size variation (63% don’t)
  4. Provide images of apparel products on a human model (75% don’t)
  5. Ensure product images have sufficient resolution and zoom (72% don’t)

An apparel site that meets or exceeds users’ expectations with regards to these best practices will set itself apart from its competitors and provide ample support to users considering apparel products.

Getting access: all 536 Apparel & Accessories UX guidelines are available today via Baymard Premium access. (If you already have an account open the Apparel & Accessories Study). Or, book a Baymard audit of your Apparel & Accessories site.

This article presents the research findings from just a few of the 600+ UX guidelines in Baymard Premium – get full access to learn how to create a “State of the Art” e-commerce user experience.

Authored by Edward Scott on July 26, 2022

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