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Don't Make Shopping Online a Mystery

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The words were balm to a soul tortured by a lack of information from internet shopping sites: "Model is Tegen, 5'10 wearing a UK 12. Note Tegen normally wears a UK 10; this is slightly small to size."

Those few words telling me Tegen had to go up a size, plus the fact that the dress was around two inches above the knees of this Amazonian model translates in my brain as: "It will be the right length for me - i.e. on the knee. I just need to order it in a bigger size than I would normally buy."

Offering comprehensive sizing information isn't rocket science, but how many fashion websites give the consumer the kind of simple information that would help her (and I use the feminine pronoun advisedly) make the right decision - or, indeed, any decision at all - when considering a purchase.

At SoSensational where our demographic is grown up women, we know from anecdotal evidence and the hyperventilation that occurs when a member of our team has seen a garment they like but can't find out what length it is, or whether they should buy in their normal size, bigger or smaller, that inadequate information is the biggest deterrent to purchasing fashion online among women over 45.

Perhaps the teen or 20-something, accustomed to diving into Topshop (the actual store or virtual equivalent) for an impulse-purchased skater skirt that she has no time to try on and may be four inches above her knee, but then again may be six, isn't bothered about an absence of measurements. But for a woman who sees a gorgeous dress and then is forced to wonder whether it will be the right length for her, inadequate information is infinitely frustrating.

The situation, of course, is different with men's clothing. Traditionally, men have been able to pick up a pair of trousers or a jacket in a store and immediately know the length and waist size of the trousers and the chest measurement and length of the jacket. There's no guess-work involved, it is all there on the ticket. And now, with internet shopping, it's all there on the webpage.

So why can't the same be true for women when they are shopping online. Why do we have to look at a picture of a garment, and wonder whether it will be right for us.

The model shot is sometimes a clue; generally models are very tall, so if a dress is two or three inches above the model's knees, it will probably be perfect on a normal height woman. But sometimes the model will be "normal" height, and unless - as in the example at the beginning - they tell us the model's height, the image is no help. And then there is the possibility the sample garment in the model shot may have been made shorter (or longer) than the production garment, so without benefit of information the consumer is none the wiser.

Some merchants, of course, are exemplary in the information they give - shining examples include Boden, Browns and My-wardrobe who are all unfailingly efficient at providing the vital measurements (often including shoulder-to-waist, sleeve lengths and sometimes the depth of a neckline) as well as length.

But far too many fashion websites don't seem to realise that it is not only frustrating but may be turning away customers as well as increasing the level of returns. After all, there is very little more frustrating than thinking a garment will be perfect for you based on a picture and then, when it arrives, and is opened with trembling fingers, trying it on and realising it would be more appropriate for your friend who is four inches shorter and a whole dress size smaller than you.