Free returns are fast becoming an expectation for online clothing shoppers. Here’s what you need to do to make sure your return policy keeps you competitive.
I recently heard this exchange between two women talking about shopping on Amazon.
“I found this blouse I really liked, but I wasn’t sure if I’d need a medium or large.”
“So you didn’t buy it?”
“Sure I did. I bought both sizes. Why not? That way I could try them on and just return the one that didn’t fit. The return is free anyway, you just print of up a return shipping label and use the box it came in.”
This is the way it works on Amazon Fashion. If it doesn’t fit or you don’t like it, you can return it for free:
Other large clothing stores like Zappos and Spanx have the same policy.
Amazon, in fact, recognizes this a service people want, so if you’re a Prime member, you can order (two or more items) and try them on at home without paying. It’s free for seven days, then you just return what you don’t want.
This shopper behavior is referred to as bracketing, where people buy clothing items online to try them on, knowing they can return what they don’t want for free.
The New Reality for eCommerce Sites
Many owners of small, boutique eCommerce fashion sites are cringing. Thanks a lot, Amazon.
They’re cringing because their profit margins are already thin. Some struggle to offer free shipping at all, much less on returns for shoppers who buy items with the intention of returning them.
But there are two things to consider when you look at Amazon.
First is that they react to what shoppers want – it’s how they got where they are. They created this type of return policy because they learned this results in more sales conversions.
And by the way – from the shopper’s perspective – you can understand why people love this service.
Free returns and even encouraging bracketing eliminates virtually all the risk involved with an online clothing purchase. Your bedroom becomes the fitting room. Try it on, and if it’s not what you thought it would be, just return it.
Amazon and other large clothing retailers recognize how advantageous this is for online shoppers and go with what their customers want.
The second thing about Amazon is they tend to be harbingers of trends that sweep across eCommerce.
That means if you’re selling clothes, shoes, or anything else that people have to try on to fit, it’s likely you’ll need to have a free returns policy in place in order to remain competitive.
If your competition offers free returns and you don’t, you’ll lose, particularly as this becomes an expectation for online shoppers.
Create a Return Policy
The main consideration for having a free return policy is that you have to wrap into your costs. Institute the policy and measure how many returns you’re typically paying for over a set period. Calculate it into your costs and make sure you’re still turning a profit.
Of course, this just like free shipping on the initial purchase; it isn’t actually free. You wrap the cost into the price of the product.
Smaller boutiques should have a free returns policy, but that doesn’t mean you need to have a try before you buy like Amazon. They have the scale to have this type of policy, but most smaller retailers don’t need to go this far.
In fact, you want to do the opposite. You’ll want to do everything possible to help people buy the right size/style/color on their initial purchase so you don’t have to pay for return shipping.
Provide as much information as you possibly can about sizing. Have sizing charts available on all product pages with links about how to measure at home to choose the right size.
Get a professional photographer to take high quality product images that clearly show your products from all angles.
Use videos an images with models that include information on the actual model’s size. Include statements like “For reference, this model is 5’7″, weights 175, and has a 32″ waist and is wearing a medium.”
Also, consider investing in technology like augmented reality and 3-D visuals. The more visual information you provide on your website, the less chance of people buying something and not getting what they expected.
The truth is that bracketing isn’t really efficient for stores or customers.
For stores, of course, it means added costs and labor dealing with inventory returns.
And even for consumers, it means the task of having to box up the item, getting it shipped and confirming the refund. Given a choice, most people would prefer to just get the right size or style the first time.
Free shipping on returns is mainly about perception. People want to know they can return something for free before they buy it because it all but eliminates the risk of buyer’s remorse.
The best strategy here is to offer free returns to minimize the shopper’s sense of risk, then do everything possible to make it so you rarely have to honor the policy.