It's the time of year for what can be a dreaded expedition: Buying a swimsuit. But for women looking for a shopping experience that includes more size options, versions under $100 and generous return policies, there are plenty of stylish choices.
Cutting through the clutter is key as the selections multiply. The e-commerce platform Lyst has 154,000 swimwear options available right now, up 12 percent from a year ago.
Customers spent three times longer browsing through swimwear last summer than in any other category, Lyst says. On average, a shopper will return to click on a swimsuit four times before committing to buy it.
But even after all that consideration, swimwear is one of the most-returned items of the season. Forty-five percent of swimsuits bought since April have been returned already, Lyst says. That compares to 34 percent of pants sent back this year and 18 percent of hats.
"Swimwear is one of those pieces of clothing that is hard to find the fit," said spokeswoman Sarah Tanner.
Some tips to navigate swimwear shopping:
TIMING THE DISCOUNTS: If you can wait, the best time to buy is in August, when suits are 70 percent off, says Benjamin Glaser, features editor with DealNews, an online comparison deal site. Then again, by then the choices will have dwindled. Walmart, which sells women's swimwear from $9.96 for a one-piece to $31.76 for a bikini sold as separates, says it has the most options in its stores from Memorial Day to July 4th. Target says June is its most popular month for swimsuit sales. Off-price retailer TJX Co., which owns T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, says it gets a fresh assortment of swimwear every week all summer.
USING TOOLS TO FIGURE OUT FIT: Many swimwear brands tout features like tummy control. But plenty of new tools can help people find the right fit. Lyst has an interactive feature called SwimSeeker that helps find a suit using three questions: Which part of their bodies do shoppers love, which colors look best on them, and which styles are they looking for. As they use the tool, the options become more personalized, Tanner says.
J.C. Penney displays select styles on mannequins at stores, but also launched a video component online this year in response to "customers who were interested in seeing how a swimsuit fit on a real person, rather than relying on static online images," says spokeswoman Daphne Avila. Some styles feature videos of models, including some full-figured ones, walking and posing in the suit.
Macy's has an online swimwear style guide that offers recommendations by style, trend or fit. And Target's website lets customers navigate by cut and fit options. Online retailer Zappos has size conversion charts to help people make choices that fit well.
This season, Lands' End launched a "swim finder" tool that prompts women to make choices from a variety of categories to help narrow down swim pieces to those best suited for them. Shoppers can also customize their two-piece selections by style, color and size.
FINDING CHOICES IN MORE SIZES: Retailers are offering more swimwear options in larger sizes. Target launched extended sizing in suits sold under the Xhilaration store brand. J.C. Penney unveiled its first plus-size private swimwear brand, Boutique+, this year. It also expanded its Ambrielle intimates brand to offer swimwear pieces that women can get in different sizes, like a smaller bottom and a larger top or vice versa.
LEARNING THE RETURN POLICIES: Many retailers like Target and Walmart say their return policies are the same for swimwear as for any other item. At Target, people can bring back unopened items in new condition within 90 days for a refund or exchange. However, T.J. Maxx and Marshalls specifically require tickets to be properly attached to swimwear. At Zappos, free shipping comes with free returns up until a year.
Follow Anne D'Innocenzio: http://twitter.com/ADInnocenzio
This story has been updated corrected the spelling of the last name of the J.C. Penney spokeswoman. It's Avila, not Avilia.