The Response From Apparel Brands on Rising Return Rates is...Charging?

While rising return rates have undoubtedly impacted the profitability of apparel eCommerce, charging shoppers for returns might not be in a brand's best interest.

Zara recently shattered headlines by announcing it will begin charging shoppers for online returns. In an industry defined by convenience and accommodation, this is a significant shift in perspective from one of the largest fast-fashion brands in the world. While some have applauded this move as a boon to sustainability (which is partially true), the majority of Zara's shoppers are understandably frustrated with this decision. Many have taken to social media to express their grievances, claiming that the brand should fix its sizing strategy if they insist on charging shoppers due to rising return rates.  

While the apparel eCommerce industry has faced recent turmoil with rising inflation, supply chain woes, and dwindling shopper demand, this move still appears overtly oppressive to the shopper. After all, the shopper is the one who has borne the brunt of outdated and inconsistent sizing standards for years, and to be fiscally punished for their inability to complete a fool's errand adds additional salt to the wound. As more brands consider following this trend of charging for returns, the question many are not asking themselves is, will the resulting impact on shopper loyalty be worth the short-term gain?    

The Apparel Industry's Blame Game on Rising Return Rates 

Product returns are a vicious cycle within the world of apparel eCommerce. A severe lack of shopper confidence in sizing and fit, combined with lenient return policies, has resulted in a culture where shoppers are encouraged to purchase and return products in excess. The issue with Zara's approach is that removing one-half of the equation (free returns) doesn't remedy the problem and (if anything) only serves to make it worse for brands and shoppers alike.

As brands look to cut costs by charging for returns, the already dwindling tolerance from shoppers on sizing and fit issues is tested even further. This can escalate to the point where shoppers either severely reduce their average order value or simply take their business elsewhere. Brands may save a small portion of costs in the short term with this strategy, but the resulting drop in shopper loyalty can be significant to their long-term bottom line. It's also worth noting that under this strategy, shoppers will continue to shoulder the online sizing burden as no effort has been made on the brand's end to remedy the issues that have led to an overreliance on free returns. 

With shoppers continuing to blame brands for inaction on sizing strategy and brands arguing that shoppers are abusing lenient return policies, what we have here is a perpetual blame game that has come to define the apparel eCommerce landscape. While no single party is overtly to blame, brands cannot reasonably expect shoppers to succeed with sizing methods that are broken by design. 

The Common Enemy Behind Rising Return Rates (The size chart)

According to a recent study by Shopify, over 52% of apparel returns are linked to size confusion. To this day, the most used (and often only available) method for sizing by online shoppers is size charts; see the correlation? Here are several reasons why the size chart is unfit to solve the issues eCommerce shoppers face today:

A shopper who purchased the wrong size clothing, contributing to rising return rates

Body diversity: Size charts rely heavily on chest, waist, and hip measurements for reference, but these body proportions don't even tell half the story when it comes to finding apparel that fits and flatters. What size do you recommend to a shopper who is very tall but has athletic thighs? Or how about a shopper who is short but stocky? Because the functionality of size charts remains tethered to the notion that all body shapes are similar to one another (which is simply untrue), their use case for brands and shoppers alike is virtually nonexistent.

Unsolved Origins: Did you know that the U.S. government itself attempted to solve the apparel sizing crisis and failed several times? In the 1900s, two government-funded sizing studies were conducted to create a universal size chart for men's, women's, and children's apparel. Despite their efforts, the everchanging bodies of the American people refused to conform to a sizing system that treated them as numbers rather than individuals. Brands brought sizing entirely in-house when the government threw in the towel, shaping their sizing strategy around their ideal customer body shape. Today, sizing remains an issue that has yet to be officially solved and cannot be remedied through solutions deeply rooted in past failures.

Inconvenience: The eCommerce landscape is defined by convenience, but in the case of apparel sizing, that isn't always the case. With size charts, shoppers are required to play the role of personal tailor by having a measuring tape on hand and knowing how to size themselves with pinpoint accuracy. This process can take a significant amount of time on the shopper's end resulting in an overall frustrating and seemingly futile experience. It is for these reasons that one in every four shoppers simply guesses their size when shopping for apparel online, which has amplified the importance of free returns for shoppers.    

A Lifeline Solution to the eCommerce Returns Crisis 

WAIR's sizing solutions directly remedy rising return rates

With sizing and fit as the driving forces behind rising return rates and size charts unable to remedy the solution, what is the best course of action for apparel brands? Well, size charts may be the most popular sizing method for apparel eCommerce, but they are far from the only solution available. 

Recent developments in AI and sizing technology have led to the creation of alternative solutions to alleviate eCommerce sizing woes. Most notable of these innovations are modern sizing solutions, which leverage AI-driven sizing algorithms to provide shoppers with their best-fitting products every time.  

Take WAIR as an example. Our sizing solution is backed by the world's largest and fastest-growing database of 3D body scans captured from shoppers across the globe. We use this data as the foundation for our Fit Advisor sizing app, a comprehensive tool that empowers brands to deliver personalized and accurate size recommendations to their shoppers at scale. 

The way it works is simple. Shoppers enter their basic body data (such as height, weight, and age), and WAIR filters their information through its vast database of body scans to align the shopper's dimensions with the scan that best matches their body type. This process usually takes less than 30 seconds, providing shoppers with absolute sizing accuracy in an easy-to-use package. 

Not only do WAIR's size recommendations significantly boost shopper confidence and reduce return rates, but they also reveal to brands (in great detail) the true nature of their shopper's bodies. Factors such as shopper body dimensions, purchasing behaviors, fit preferences, and geolocation are just a few notable examples of the data WAIR captures throughout the shopper's journey. Armed with the insights needed to shape their eCommerce strategy around the bodies of their shoppers, apparel brands now have a viable path forward to remedy the eCommerce returns crisis from the ground up.

Confidence is the Key to Reducing Returns

Eliminating or reworking lenient return policies looks like a promising idea on paper, but in practice, the issues shoppers and brands currently face are more than likely to persist under this strategy. Only by eliminating size confusion from the beginning of the buyer's journey can brands hope to remedy the eCommerce returns crisis.


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