Shopping has always been plagued by an age-old problem, the return of goods.
While the pandemic fueled a surge in online shopping, some retailers have turned to online dressing rooms so shoppers keep what they buy. Others, the likes of Walmart and Amazon.com, are simply telling buyers to keep their purchases, while still others are scoring their customers based on their rate of return.
Online shoppers return, on average, 30 percent of what they buy, all depending on the category. However, the current return rate is approximately three times the rate expected in brick and mortar stores.
Consumers have overcome their reluctance to purchase everything from groceries to makeup online. With physical stores shuttering and consumers becoming increasingly anxious about spending time indoors, almost half of those questioned said they plan to continue shopping online, even after the pandemic ends.
Solving an Age-old Problem
The shift from physical shopping to online shopping places considerable emphasis on an age-old problem that dates from the early beginnings of online shopping. Free shipping and accommodating return policies have gotten consumers accustomed to ordering different sizes and different colors, keeping what suits them and returning what doesn’t.
The return rate for purchases made via e-commerce rose 75 percent from 2019. A top reason for returning the merchandise is improper fit.
Customers are trying to replicate in-store experiences where they are free to try as many variants as they please. The technology in use is embryonic, people often don’t measure their bodies correctly, and they get very annoyed if self-fitting takes too long or is too cumbersome.
How Is the Pandemic Changing the Way People Shop?
As America continues to struggle, how might consumers shop in a post-pandemic world?
Major retailers, including Levis Strauss & Co., are employing a virtual tool that allows potential buyers to see how they would look in various body types. So far, returns have dropped by about eight percent.
Another way to attack the fit, and return problem, is through bespoke clothing. This concept has moved well beyond luxury labels. Amazon.com is selling bespoke (made to measure) T-shirts, and the H&M Group is in the process of testing the idea with made to measure button-down dress shirts and slacks.
Returns of bespoke clothing at H&M averages about five percent, a long way from the 30 percent norm. Customers must answer a host of questions that include height, weight, and body type. With the information provided, a pattern is created. The pattern, in turn, is sent to an H&M factory where the garment is manufactured.
Before asking customers to answer questions, body scanners were used. However, according to Bobby Ostberg, CEO of ZyseMe, the results do not tell the manufacturer what the individuals fit preferences are, hence the questionnaire.
Unspun is using its web presence to sell made-to-measure jeans, as well as through stores in Hong Kong and San Francisco. Once COVID restrictions have been lifted, the company is set to launch a pilot project at the Stockholm store of Weekday, a subsidiary of H&M.
The founder of Unspun says their rate of return is less than 10 percent. In most cases, fit is not an issue. It is more likely that the fabric was not what they had in mind.
Why Do Customers Return Clothing?
To tackle the returns problem, retailers must first know the reasons for returning the product. Some retailers require the completion of a detailed questionnaire, but, in many cases, the answers are inaccurate. Most of the people returning goods don’t take the time to provide accurate answers. They pick the first answer they see in the drop-down box.
Newmine measures consumer returns, similar to the process used by credit-rating firms who track creditworthiness. Using information gathered from social media platforms and product reviews, the company collects data as to why products are returned. At times, the problem is quality. At other times, the product does not match the written description.
Customers with a bad score may not be given the opportunity to participate in sales, special discounts, or catalogs. A Newmine representative said, “Why spend good money on sending catalogs to those who return more of what they buy, than what they keep.”
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