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Clothing fit problems are among the main reasons customers are returning clothes and shoes purchased online, and it’s a costly hassle for retailers. A 2015 IHL reporta retail research firm, estimated that retailers around the world lose billions every year from returns due to poor sizing.

As Amazon grows in the largest clothing retailer in the United States, the number of returns it must manage will only increase. But the Seattle-based company appears to be working on a system to ensure customers get the right size the first time.

A recent patent application filed by Amazon outlines a few possible modes of operation for a system that makes sizing recommendations to customers based on a “reference item.” Amazon would use a device, also described in the filing, to take internal measurements of its products, allowing it to create three-dimensional models that it would store in a database. As a buying user, Amazon would be able to recommend products with a similar fit depending on whether its dimensions match the reference item within a certain threshold. If, for example, you like the fit of your Converse sneakers, you can be reasonably assured that any sneakers recommended by Amazon will also fit.

The system can even take into account factors such as the destination of the product – running, for example, in the case of sneakers – or the stretch of the fabric. A picture of a device for measuring shoes looks a bit like a shoe horn and can record “toe width, toe height, circumference, internal length and other related dimensions”.

Amazon's internal measuring device for shoes.

Looks a bit like a shoehorn.
Image: Amazon patent application

The patent is the continuation of an effectively identical patent filed in 2012 by Shoefitr, Inc., a sizing technology company that had customers such as Nordstrom and cole haan. Amazon quietly acquired last year, and appears to be continuing to develop its system, although filing for a patent does not guarantee that a product will be developed or used. We’ve reached out to Amazon for comment and will update this story with any new information.

The original patent and Amazon’s sequel say the system could also be used to create patterns for “jeans, pants, shirts, bras, hats and headwear, handbags” and other items.

Measuring every product Amazon sells, or even just a large portion of them, would take a tremendous amount of effort, but it’s something Amazon is arguably well equipped to tackle. In 2015, for example, he opened a 46,000 square foot photography studio in London to film some 500,000 pictures of clothes per year, as part of its goal to increase fashion sales.

In March, Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren – at least until 2017— ignored Amazon’s threat to Macy’s clothing business. “They’re going to have an interesting challenge when they start getting all this feedback online,” he told a group of investors, noting that shoppers often buy multiple sizes at once because they’re not unsure of their fit.

The best solution is to solve the problem before it becomes a problem.