Fit technology is designed to minimize returns and maximize a retailer’s profit. The prevailing logic has been that empowering customers with more information would minimize bracketing—the practice of buying multiple versions of an item and returning what doesn’t work. Less bracketing, in turn, would cut down on retailers’ shipping and return costs. But, according to our 2021 consumer returns study, 88% of shoppers used one or more fit tech tools when making purchases, and 42% still said they made their last return due to an issue with fit or size.
To better understand the current customer mindset, let’s explore why customers are bracketing, which tools they’re using to inform their purchase decisions, and what steps retailers can take to increase customer satisfaction and revenue.
Bracketing hit an all-time high in 2020, and still hovers around 60% in 2021. A year ago, 41% of shoppers said they purchased multiple sizes of products due to pandemic weight fluctuations. Changing size concerns, however, only account for 23% of bracketed purchases in 2021; shoppers now say they are bracketing because they still can’t try items on in stores (36%) or they’re trying new brands (26%).
While early-pandemic retail closures have given way to masking, vaccination, and limited-capacity recommendations, brick and mortar retail has not roared back. That’s critical because physical stores are where shoppers have traditionally tried items or interacted with new brands, eliminating the need for bracketing.
While it’s easy to blame the pandemic, brick and mortar was struggling before that—the pandemic just exacerbated those problems. According to Fortune, 10,000 stores closed in the U.S. in 2019 and another 12,200 stores shuttered in 2020.
Regardless of previous consumer preferences for in-person or online shopping, the convenience of Buy Online Pick Up In Store (BOPIS), curbside pickup, and delivery mean the shift towards ecommerce is here to stay. Retailers that want to thrive in an online-dominant environment need tools and strategies that bolster shoppers’ confidence that an item will be the right fit.
Retailers are hopeful that fit technology can limit the flow of returns. Fit tech includes a broad spectrum of tools. Low-tech solutions include size charts detailing measurements for each size category, product descriptions, photos, videos, and customer reviews. High-tech tools include size prediction algorithms and augmented reality (AR).
In a time when consumers prioritize a “smart” alternative to everything from phones to watches to doorbells, it’s interesting that low-tech solutions are more popular than the slick, new tools. According to our consumer research, 88% of shoppers have relied on customer reviews to inform a purchase, while 87% have used photos and product descriptions or size charts. Of note, there is more appetite to see models of different sizes and shapes than what is currently offered to provide better context. By contrast, only 40% of shoppers have used predictive sizing recommendations based on other brands, and 32% have used AR to visualize an item on themselves.
Granted, there are more retailers using traditional tools like reviews and size charts and consumers have expressed a desire to use higher-tech tools if they were available, but a deeper dive into customer feedback reveals that shoppers remain more confident in the traditional tools. Eighty-three percent of shoppers thought that customer reviews helped prevent the need for returns, while only 64% found size recommendations based on other brands helpful in heading off returns. Of those who have used AR and similar visualization tools, 58% believe it has prevented them from having to make a return.
The good news is customers are using the fit tech tools that retailers are deploying, and they think the tools are helping, even if the data tells a different story.
It may seem like bracketing and returns are here to stay, but shoppers’ adoption of fit tech suggests they believe in the power of data to inform purchase decisions. Furthermore, our 2021 State of Returns report suggests that many shoppers would rather not bracket. Forty-nine percent of respondents said they don’t bracket because returns are a hassle, 48% said bracketing is wasteful, and 43% cited financial reasons. More importantly, 48% said they only bracket when sizing or other options aren’t clear.
More accurate fit information—especially customer reviews and product details—could be the decidedly unsexy answer.
Returns can be disappointing for both shoppers and retailers, but they’re also an opportunity to build customer loyalty through exceptional communication and service. Consider asking or incentivizing customers making returns to write product reviews including their experience with the fit that could help the next shopper make the right selection. Encourage a customer to make subsequent purchases by offering an instant refund in the form of store credit when they submit a return request.
Finding the right fit isn’t solely a matter of sizing standpoint; it includes a bespoke approach to crafting return policies and the returns experience. However retailers choose to approach those decisions, planning beyond the present transaction is the smartest way to create a long-term relationship with customers.
Andria is Global Director of Marketing & Communications at Narvar. She grew up in entertainment at iconic brands like EMI & MTV before pivoting to ecommerce, most recently at Walmart.com.