Lockdown saw a drop in returns rate among retailers that were successfully able to cater to the spike in consumer demand for relaxed-fit lounge and leisurewear, highlighting a huge opportunity for retailers to achieved a sustained decrease in returns by improving their customers’ ability to choose the right size first time.
In October 2020, when ASOS reported a 19% increase in global sales but a 329% jump in pre-tax profits, one of the reasons it cited was a reduction in the number of items returned by customers. And ASOS was not alone. In August, retail giants Revolve and Zalando also said return rates were down. In its trading update to September 2020, US online fashion retailer Sosander said returns had reduced from 49% to 42%.
Why? Lots of reasons, but product choice was certainly a contributing factor. With nowhere to go in lockdown, dresses were out and loungewear was in. In other words, products with less precise fit requirements dominated shoppers’ online baskets. A size 12 pair of leggings will fit all sizes and shapes of size 12 in way that more structured garments, like occasion wear, will not. ASOS successfully refocused its product range to meet consumer demand for casualwear and activewear and noted ‘the beneficial returns behaviour associated with these product categories’.
The fall in rates was by no means a universal experience for fashion retailers, and was almost certainly a short-term product of the pandemic, but it does highlight a huge opportunity. When consumers buy items that fit them, they are far less likely to send them back. This is hardly news. Incorrect fit has long been cited – by consumers and retailers – as the most common reason for returning items bought online. What it does do is provide a tantalising glimpse of the effect on retailers’ returns rate if fit is taken out of the equation. In other words, if you can help your customers choose the right size first time, you could potentially see a significant decrease in your returns rate.
Returns cost UK retailers billions every year. It is a huge problem, and it is getting worse. The massive increase in online’s share of clothing and footwear sales over the last year thanks to successive lockdowns – up from 18% to 50% in just 12 months – will bring with it a proportionate increase in the volume of garments being returned. This isn’t just a financial and logistical burden for retailers, it is also an unsustainable business practice that contributes to the fashion industry’s heavy footprint on the planet.
But the pandemic has also given us a window of opportunity for change. While product choice was a key contributor to the drop in returns rates experienced by ASOS and others, more considered purchasing was another. Consumers were buying more deliberately, more carefully, and less wastefully. If retailers can capitalise on this trend by also enabling their customers to make the right size choices so garments are not returned as frequently, it could have a dramatic impact on both profit margins and carbon footprints.
But the fit problem isn’t going away, right? Well, maybe it can. The pandemic hasn’t just accelerated the shift online. It has also lit a bonfire under the fashion industry’s digital transformation. So it isn’t surprising that more and more retailers are turning to technology solutions to try to keep returns at a lower level, including the use of fit assistants and fit recommendation solutions to help consumers purchase the right size, increase confidence in the online purchasing process and, ultimately, drive brand loyalty.
Forget confusing size charts and, in fact, anything that requires consumers to dig out the tape measure or take photos of themselves. Fit solutions don’t have to be complicated or time-consuming to implement, and it is essential that they are easy to use. Today’s garment fit technology solutions are both much simpler and more sophisticated. Bodi.Me’s Size-Me size advice tool, for example, draws on data from 350,000 body scans and models to extrapolate a complete body profile from just the wearer’s height, weight, and jeans or bra size – information most online shoppers have at their fingertips – with a high degree of accuracy.
This type of solution is ideal for e-commerce platforms for any type of garment, from fashion retailers to uniform providers. A size advice tool provides wearers with instant, personalised size recommendation based on the garment data from the brand or retailer. These have already been used by forward-looking retailers to significantly bring down returns rates, reduce size confusion, and increase customer engagement.
As online sales continue to grow, solutions like Size-Me can help clothing companies capitalise on the new consumer mentality and keep returns under control as we begin to emerge from lockdown and ‘nowhere to go’ transforms into a return to the social activity we have all been longing for.