A shopper returning a shirt to a retailer due to it being the wrong size

Top 5 Reasons Why eCommerce Shoppers Return Apparel in 2022

As apparel return rates continue to rise in 2022, we wanted to shed more light on why online shoppers are returning apparel products.

When it comes to apparel eCommerce, we are truly living in the age of returns. According to a recent study, 79% of eCommerce shoppers consider free returns as one of the most important factors when shopping online. Another study revealed that brands saw a near doubling in product return rates for 2021, with apparel as the leading product category with the highest number of returns.

Just like brick-and-mortar commerce, we know that returns are an inevitable part of eCommerce, but identifying the core reasons why shoppers return apparel is a crucial first step in significantly reducing a brand's return rates. Here are the top 5 most notable reasons why shoppers are returning apparel in 2022:

Size Confusion

Shoppers struggling to get apparel to fit them.

We’ve all dealt with the stresses of online clothes shopping before. Desperately wrestling with a measuring tape in an attempt to figure out one’s “true” size is always a frustrating process, and shoppers have not taken well to size charts and fit guides.

A common practice with shoppers in recent years is “bracketing” or purchasing several different sizes with the intent of keeping one and returning the rest. Because multiple products are inevitably returned through size sampling, the practice causes substantial spikes in return rates, spikes that could have been avoided had sizing been made clearer to shoppers during the purchasing process.

According to Shopify, over 52% of eCommerce apparel returns are due to size confusion, and the recent influx of eCommerce shoppers over the past few years will only exacerbate the effects of this ongoing sizing crisis.

The Product Looks Different Than What Was Shown Online

Shoppers comparing online apparel to physical apparel

The beautiful, curated pictures that brands use on apparel ads and product pages are great at attracting shoppers, but they can easily create a gap between shopper expectations and reality. Most apparel photography and other media are created before brands receive the final product. If the product's page isn't updated to reflect these changes, brands take the significant risk of misleading their shoppers. 

Brands seeking to provide absolute clarity on product appearance, sizing, and fit are investing heavily into virtual fitting room technology. This retail tech has combined the tangibility of in-person product impressions with the convenience of eCommerce resulting in a shopping experience that is second to none for apparel shoppers. 

*Learn more about how virtual fitting rooms are transforming the apparel industry here*

Unwanted Gift

A shopper returning unwanted apparel at a brick-and-mortar store

Gift giving is that one special ability that we all wish we had. Unfortunately, the likelihood that our gifts end up in a returns bin once the holiday/celebration has concluded is quite high. While we can’t stop shoppers from occasionally buying terrible gifts, brands can at least increase their chances of success using certain methods.

Apparel is a product category that sees an outlandishly high number of post-holiday returns. This is often due to the fact that buying clothing as a gift is notoriously difficult as gift buyers are left to the mercy of issues such as styling, sizing, budget, and time constraints. 

To help prospective gift buyers, some brands have integrated style quizzes (similar to those seen on Stitchfix) onto their websites to help shoppers identify potential gift options. Another method to increase the shopper’s chances of a successful purchase is to leverage modern sizing solutions like WAIR. Rather than requiring one's giftee to break out a measuring tape for sizing, WAIR's sizing solution needs only basic body data (such as height and weight) to recommend the giftee’s best-fitting size.

*Learn more about how WAIR helps gift buyers with sizing here*


A shopper purchasing apparel online but planning to return it for a full refund

Unfortunately, there are shoppers out there who buy with no intention of ever keeping the product. Wardrobing is the practice of buying a product, using it several times, and then returning it to the brand for a full refund. While wardrobing is a common occurrence across all industries, it is most rampant within the apparel industry, especially for brands with exceedingly lenient return policies.

In lieu of completely revising one’s existing return policy, brands have been combating wardrobing using several unique methods. Take StockX as an example. They attach a highly visible tag to each piece of merchandise they sell which details the brand’s return policy. If that tag were to be removed by a shopper, the product would be ineligible for a refund. This process provides shoppers with a chance to get an in-person look and feel of the product while significantly reducing the likelihood of wardrobing.

Product Was Damaged or the Wrong Item Was Sent

A shopper opening up a package only to discover the product has been damaged

Whether it be damaged goods or order mismanagement, shipping mishaps are all too common in the world of eCommerce. This is an especially troublesome scenario for brands as not only is this a poor first impression to new shoppers but also because the Federal Trade Commission deems it illegal to charge a shopper for an item different from the one they originally ordered.

The proactive approach to this scenario is for brands to make sure that packaging methods are airtight regardless of the fragility of the product itself. If the issues persist, the reactive approach is to evaluate one’s fulfillment process and discuss these matters with fulfillment vendors to prevent further issues. 

Returns are a perpetual inconvenience in the world of eCommerce. Fortunately, when brands safeguard against the risks associated with the five mentioned return reasons, they conserve valuable resources and improve the shopper buying experience simultaneously. 

Eager to learn how WAIR can transform your eCommerce brand through sizing? Schedule a demo here, and be sure to follow us on TwitterInstagram , LinkedIn, and Facebook for all your fashion content needs!

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