How Apparel Brands Are Planning to Reduce eCommerce Return Rates in Q4 

As we reach the finale of WAIR's peak season survival guide, what better subject to close with than eCommerce return rates?

We've learned from the recent eCommerce boom of the importance of the post-purchase experience, as shoppers have become increasingly reliant on free returns and other generous policies when traversing the online landscape. In recent months, a ballooning consumer price index and low overall sentiment on economic direction also have shoppers increasingly wary of where they spend their dollars, and many will base the entirety of their purchasing decisions on your brand's return policy alone.

This places eCommerce apparel brands in a particularly difficult spot. Rising eCommerce return rates are essentially a byproduct of the online shopping experience itself, where the entirety of a shopper's first impressions of your product are made through a screen. In addition, while shoppers love (and have come to expect) free returns and other lenient policies, they always incur a cost, usually at your brand's (and the environment's) expense. As such, the proactive approach that many apparel brands are taking in Q4 is to address the core issues behind rising eCommerce return rates and remedy them accordingly. 

Let's dive into the causes behind eCommerce returns and how leading apparel brands plan to reduce return rates during the peak shopping season.

Current Drivers of Rising eCommerce Return Rates

A female shopper with a handful of eCommerce returns
Sizing and Fit

The most common yet most frequently overlooked symptom behind rising apparel return rates is sizing and fit. According to Shopify, over 50% of apparel eCommerce returns are linked to these issues, despite the majority of brands having size charts present on their sites. The key takeaway here is that shoppers frequently mismeasure themselves when using size charts and, in general, believe them to be inaccurate and outdated. The resulting lack of confidence during size selection can result in shoppers either guessing their size when purchasing online, bracketing, or (in a worst-case scenario) abandoning the purchase entirely.  

Product Did Not Live Up to Expectations

We've all seen those satirical "What I ordered vs. what I got" compilations on TikTok, and while they're great for a good laugh, they ironically highlight one of the most prevalent reasons why shoppers return products bought online. Shoppers have a difficult time garnering meaningful first impressions of online products, as they mostly rely on site imagery, customer reviews, and product specifications to determine a product's look and overall quality. Only when the shopper receives the product can they truly make their true first impressions, and if they do not live up to their expectations, the likelihood of the product being returned is quite high. 

Wardrobing

Also known as returns fraud, wardrobing is the practice where a shopper purchases a product (across any category) with the sole intention of using it for a brief period of time and then returning it for a refund or credit. This practice was quite common during the height of the pandemic, as brands leaned into lenient return policies during physical store closures and growing economic uncertainty. While the number of honest shoppers is undoubtedly higher than the latter, the practice of wardrobing remains more widespread than many would like to believe, accounting for over 10% of total returns, according to the NRF.  

Shipping Mismanagement

Due to the continued growth and scale of the eCommerce industry, shipping mishaps can and often do occur. Whether it be the shopper receiving the wrong product, the product arriving damaged or defective, or the sudden introduction of a shipping delay, there are a plethora of reasons why shoppers would return or cancel an order due to a shipping mishap. While this might seem like an issue that lies outside your brand's control, there are still preventative measures that can be taken to reduce the likelihood and impact of shipping mishaps. 

These are the most common reasons why eCommerce shoppers are returning apparel products. That said, this list is not entirely comprehensive, and the reasoning behind your shoppers' returns may differ. To precisely identify why your shoppers are returning products, it is crucial to provide them with the ability to leave feedback on and off your site. 

What Industry-Leading Apparel Brands Are Doing to Reduce eCommerce Returns

A female executive strategizing at her workplace

In an effort to take a pre-emptive approach to this year's peak shopping season, leading apparel brands have pulled out all the stops to reduce the possibility of another post-holiday returns rush, including:

Integrating Modern Sizing Solutions

To deliver the best-fitting products to their shoppers and further reduce the possibility of returns, industry-leading brands like Vineyard Vines, Mac Duggal, Cuts Clothing, and more have leaned heavily into technology-backed sizing solutions like WAIR. These solutions take the traditionally cumbersome and unreliable sizing process and condense it into a simple, personalized, and accurate experience that we like to call sizeless commerce. With WAIR, eCommerce apparel brands typically see a 21% decrease in return rates and a 28% increase in conversions. That's the power sizeless commerce has on bolstering shopper confidence and, subsequentially, your performance numbers.

Updating and Refining Product Display Pages

Accurate product representation will be crucial during the peak shopping season to avoid a potential influx of post-holiday returns. As such, brands across the apparel industry are actively updating their PDPs to ensure their shoppers get a clear impression of how a garment will look, fit, and feel before placing an order. This includes but is not limited to accurate product photography, in-depth material descriptions, product size specifications, and garnering a steady flow of shopper reviews. 

Altering Existing Return Policies

Zara recently shattered headlines when they announced the end of their free eCommerce returns model. While this might be a tempting path forward for brands who continue to feel the effects of bracketing and wardrobing, the resulting impact on shopper loyalty could be significant, to say the least. While some brands have chosen to shift entirely toward charging for returns, others have been altering their return policies on a per-collection basis only, marking their lingering inventory from last season as "final sale" while retaining their original returns policy on the current season's offerings. Depending on your brand's price elasticity of demand, shoppers may not mind being charged for returns, especially if your website delivers a top-quality shopping experience. 

Doubling Down On Package Protection

Remember earlier when we were talking about the issues surrounding shipping mishaps? As it turns out, there are viable actions brands are taking to actively combat this issue, including but not limited to ensuring optimal packaging practices, conducting trial runs with new shipping partners, and using inexpensive impact/shock indicators to discover when and where any damage took place during the shipping process. Most package handlers will also offer shipping insurance, where your brand can file a claim if a package was damaged, although the costs associated with this method can be a bit high depending on your shipping partner.         

Final Words

Most of us reading this article vividly remember the 2021 post-holiday returns hangover, which had brands sorting through mountains of returned inventory months after the holiday season had concluded. While 2022 is shaping up to be somewhat of a tame season compared to last year, the possibility of another post-holiday returns rush is still there. As such, addressing the core reasons behind returns well in advance is the best and sometimes only way to ensure smooth sailing during and after the most crucial months of 2022.

We hope you've enjoyed the last few installments of WAIR's Peak Season Survival Guide! Stay tuned for the upcoming infographic!


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