Fashion retail is the fastest growing part of the e-commerce sector. Half of all fashion purchases are now being made online. At the same time, it’s the sector with the highest return percentages: up to 50%! Fashion companies are trying everything they can to reduce returns, and keep them as low as possible. In this article, we will delve deeper into the world of online fashion and tell you what you can do to receive far fewer product returns.
How To Reduce Customer Returns?
Clothing is very personal and the selection is huge. There’s an emotional component to choosing clothing and customers want to try it on before they decide whether it suits them. That’s easy to do in a physical shop. Customers can see, touch and try on the item before buying. But this is impossible with an online shop; customers are limited to just seeing the product on a screen. However, online retailers are becoming savvier and we’re seeing an increase in smart solutions that combine the features of offline shopping with the advantages of digital retail.
The Right of Withdrawal in Fashion
You are legally required to accept returns within 14 days of purchase in the EU with the right of withdrawal. However, the big players in the fashion industry go much further than the ‘minimum’ requirements. Zalando introduced a free shipping and return policy in 2014 with a 100-day return window. As a result, smaller online shops are forced to become more flexible with their return policy, otherwise they run the risk of being uncompetitive on the market.
But fortunately there is hope! Even though customer expectations are increasing and it doesn’t look like they are simply going to change their shopping behaviour, we are seeing innovative business strategies for dealing with returns.
There are two things you can do to reduce returns in fashion:
- Manage customer expectations (or do so more effectively)
- Help online shoppers find the right fit
Manage Your Customers’ Expectations to Reduce Returns
If the customer receives the product they expect, there is certainly a much greater chance that the product will not be returned. That’s why it’s important to describe the product as well as possible. Show the customer what it is, what it looks like, how it feels and how it fits. These few simple changes to your product pages will take you a long way:
1. Include Detailed Product Photos
Good product photos are obviously a must. But do you also use close-up, detailed photos? To get a sense of a product, you want to know how it feels. When consumers can clearly see what kind of material something is made of, they often automatically know what it feels like. They subconsciously compare it with something they have touched before and can imagine how it feels.
2. Write Clear Product Descriptions
A good product description ensures that customers know exactly what they are getting. This can make them want the product even more. Be careful not to focus on selling the garment, but on describing your product as clearly as possible. Go as far as to include sensory words like soft, rough, smooth, thick or light. You want to help online shoppers as much as possible, so be as accurate and truthful as possible. Exaggerated or false claims will not help reduce your return rate.
3. Describe The Style & Fit
Clothing sizes and the way a garment fits differ depending on the brand and where it comes from. By describing the fit for each piece of clothing (e.g. regular, tight, wide, skinny or how it drapes in centimetres), you can reduce doubts and help the online shopper choose the product that best fits their style. Is there a model in your photos? If so, give their dimensions and say which size the model is wearing.
Help Your Customers Find The Right Fit to Reduce Returns
The biggest problem in online fashion is the right fit. Fortunately, some significant steps have been taken in this area in recent years.
4. Include Size Charts & Brand Comparisons
The most common solution is a simple size chart that explains the dimensions of a garment. The disadvantage of such a chart is that people often do not want to or cannot measure themselves well. That’s why you sometimes see brands that compare their clothing sizes with those of other brands. That way, the customer can choose the right size by looking at the size of a well-fitting garment they already have in their closet.
5. Use Body Doubles
Another way to make it easier for customers to shop is to give them a model with which they can compare themselves. This gives them an idea of what the clothing would look like if they wore it themselves, which makes online shopping a little easier. This Australian online (Sizeable – above) shop created a classification based on body type.
A body double is a good approach for smaller online shops or for online retailers who sell a lot of clothing to target groups that deviate from the standard sizes.
6. Install Virtual Fitting rooms & Fitting Tools
We are increasingly seeing online shops using a fit tool. With a few simple questions, such a tool can help you find the right size. By combining customer data with clothing data, these tools can make a big difference. Examples include Fit Finder from Fit Analytics or True Fit, which are used by many online shops like SHEIN (pictured above).
Some companies go even further and have created completely new business concepts around this technology. A good example is ThirdLove.com, an online lingerie shop that helps women find the perfect bra. They do so by asking questions about the fit of a woman’s current bra. At every step, they then describe how a bra from ThirdLove could help them get a better fit.
In addition, some companies are trying to combine the approach of a virtual body double and a fit tool. For example, you can use Metail.com software to create your own avatar, giving you a better idea of how clothing would look on you and what size you need.
7. Include Consumer Data & Experiences
Another way to reduce returns is to look at which articles a customer has returned in the past and which they have not. You can then give that customer suggestions about other clothing items that would probably suit them. Look at similar customers and then divide your customers into target groups so you can approach them more personally.
A business concept that is increasingly popular in recent years is the online personal shopper. Companies like The Cloakroom, Suitsupply, the Outfittery (pictured above), and Zalon (a division of Zalando) all offer something similar. The customer indicates their style and their sizes and then a personal shopper puts together an outfit. They can then try on this outfit at home and send back the products they don’t want to keep. What’s striking is that these companies primarily focus on men. That is probably because women tend to prefer to shop for themselves.
With this business concept, retailers assume that customers are going to return some products; the only thing they want to achieve is to increase the customer’s lifetime value. Getting to know the customer better and learning what kind of clothing fits them best makes it easier to send them the right clothing. That increases the likelihood that the customer will keep more items.
8. Try Body Scans
When we look to the future of online fashion, we see a lot of experimentation with 3D scan technology. A great deal of research is now being done in this field and the idea is being pursued by several large retailers. Body scans are nothing new, but they are not yet being used on a large scale for e-commerce. The problem lies in a lack of data: clothing brands and retailers need to digitise the sizes of their products in the right way. For example, there are now retailers who offer apps that can help you find your shoe size with your phone’s camera.
Online shop returns remain an important and less enjoyable part of the online fashion market. Trying on clothing seems to be the only way that people can judge whether they really like it. However, it’s important that you do as much as possible to help customers make the right choice. If you’re not an online giant, this means you have to be distinctive and make good product pages with clear size charts. Midsize and large retailers need to go a step further and combine their customer data with new technologies.
If you succeed in managing your customer’s expectations and offering them the perfect fit, fewer returns will not be the only benefit. If your customers are confident that they will get the right style and fit from you, you also will see increases in:
- Average order value
- Lifetime value per customer
- Customer loyalty
- Number of ambassadors
Best of luck with reducing your returns. Of course, returns are inevitable, so it’s important that you have a good return process. We at Sendcloud are happy to help you with that, with our return portal.