A female shopper holding two brown bags and looking at her tablet

What is Bracketing and How Apparel Brands Can Prevent It

How can your fashion brand reduce return rates without impacting shopper loyalty?

Let's drum up a quick hypothetical. You're shopping for a new pair of jeans from a brand you have no prior experience with. The style is to die for, but you're a bit unsure on which size to buy. Upon opening the brand's size chart, you are bombarded with an overcluttered and barely decipherable guide that requires you to take several measurements of yourself to use. Not only are you unsure if you own a measuring tape, but you aren't 100% confident in your ability to size yourself. What do you do?

In the case of most eCommerce shoppers, guessing one's size based on their sizing in other products has become somewhat of the norm. But when shoppers who are confused about sizing remain driven to order their best-fitting products the first time, they simply order multiple sizes in the same product and return what doesn't fit. This all too common practice is called bracketing (or size sampling), and it's a problem that costs eCommerce brands millions every year.  

Why do Shoppers Choose to Bracket?

What is bracketing? This picture shows a shopper returning several items she tested for sizing

Many cite the exacting requirements from shoppers surrounding lenient return policies as the primary cause of bracketing. However, the number of reasons why shoppers engage in this practice is extensive. These reasons include (but are not limited to):

Size confusion: The scenario mentioned at the beginning of this article tells the entire story on eCommerce size confusion. A general lack of confidence in sizing amongst shoppers has led to the emergence of defensive purchasing methods (like bracketing) and has amplified the importance of free returns. While brands are quick to call out shoppers for abusing lenient return policies, shoppers have shouldered the sizing burden for decades, and bracketing has (essentially) been their only sure-fire way to obtain their best-fitting products on the first try.

Gauging in-person look and feel: It can be considerably difficult for brands to portray a product's true characteristics through display pages alone, and shoppers are well aware of this. For this reason, shoppers will often choose to bracket simply to determine the product's in-person look and feel. This scenario is applicable not only for on-body appearance and fit but also for color and style. Unfortunately, this scenario can be difficult to impossible for brands to address outside of optimizing PDPs to ensure accurate product representation.  

The online returns culture: Online shoppers have become accustomed to free returns and are more than willing to "take advantage" of lenient policies. Because the current retail landscape is defined by shopper convenience (in most areas) and satisfaction, many brands have chosen to take frequent returns on the chin, lest they risk losing the shopper's business for good. However, not all brands have taken this approach, with industry giants like Amazon, Victoria's Secret, and (most recently) Zara actively hindering return efforts from both frequent and infrequent offenders.

How Does Bracketing Affect Apparel Brands?

An eCommerce executive reviewing a report describing "What is Bracketing?"
The effects of bracketing can be significant

While shipping and returns might (usually) be free for shoppers, the costs associated with processing these items can be significant for brands. In addition, the possibility of these products being resold is often slim to none, especially for specific garments like intimates and swimwear. This scenario has led to brands discarding thousands of tons of apparel waste into landfills annually, causing irreversible damage to the environment.

In addition to monetary and sustainability costs, there's also the opportunity costs associated with product returns. Inventory that could have been sold and kept by other shoppers is actively reduced through bracketing, an especially dire scenario today as supply chain woes have persisted well into 2023.

Why Size Confidence Is the Key to Reducing Bracketing

WAIR's sizing solutions reducing bracketing

While bracketing is a well-documented issue and has existed since the dawn of apparel eCommerce, it isn't the impossibly tricky nut to crack that many brands think it is. The focal reason why shoppers choose to bracket is size confusion. This issue has been perpetuated by the antiquated sizing methods grandfathered in by new and existing apparel brands alike. Size charts, fit guides, model dimensions, these "solutions" may seem like viable tools to give shoppers during their sizing journey, but in reality, they only serve to overcomplicate the issue. This is why modern sizing solutions (like WAIR) are gaining significant traction from the leading apparel eCommerce brands today.

Modern sizing solutions are technology's answer to the size chart. These tools leverage AI-driven sizing algorithms to deliver seamless and personalized fit recommendations at scale. The benefits of this technology are extensive. Shoppers can receive immediate fit guidance for any product without the help of a customer service representative, eliminating size confusion, boosting confidence, and saving your team time. Even more impressive, these solutions capture unique shopper body data during each sizing session, providing brands with enhanced clarity on the body dimensions of their core customer base.

Brands that have integrated modern sizing solutions onto their eCommerce sites have seen significant increases in conversion rates and average order value. To use one of WAIR's brand partners as an example, The Classic T-Shirt Company saw a 25% increase in new shopper conversion rates after integrating WAIR. Another example is Belong Designs, which saw a 34% increase in average order value with WAIR's solutions. As brands continue to look for ways to instill shopper confidence and deter bracketing, modern sizing solutions will only continue to gain prominence within the apparel industry.                         

Never Doubt the Importance of Sizing Strategy

While brands cannot reasonably eliminate every factor contributing to bracketing, modern solutions can alleviate the more egregious effects of this practice. At its core, bracketing is the result of poor size communication, and brands looking to positively impact their bottom line should consider this fact when shaping their eCommerce strategy.

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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