Eoin Cambay, Founder & CEO, Swan

Jun 22, 2023

Bracketing is a fashion ecommerce nightmare

Bracketing is a shopper behaviour that involves a customers buying multiple sizes of the same item – the size they anticipate they’ll want, plus one size up and one size down from that size. This is done in the full knowledge that at least two of the items will be returned. 

If shoppers keep at least one size, why is it a problem for retailers?

For retailers, bracketing is a nightmare for two reasons. First, returns are monumentally expensive. KPMG has determined that even a return handled in-store can cost two-three times more than the cost of getting an item to the customer in the first place, based on UK shipping. Other research has suggested that, at a 20% return rate of an £89 item, there is an £11 cost per garment to the retailer. At such rates, and with low margins, profitability looks precarious.

Second, the scale at which this sort of shopping behaviour is becoming normal is also huge. One report suggests that around 56 per cent of shoppers globally practice bracketing. There is a school of thought that says bracketing is more of a ‘new customer’ practice – something that, once a customer has done it a few times, they won’t need to do it again. But this argument is comprehensively undermined by the ongoing reality that the apparel retail returns rate still runs at anywhere from 25-50%.

What can retailers do to reduce bracketing?

If there’s a form to fill in, the reason given for such returns will probably be “wrong size/fit” – but this is not strictly true. If you adopt the shopper mindset, the real reason is that, when choosing their garment, they weren’t sure which size to choose that was going to fit them the way they wanted – which is a whole different reason. So your goal must be to provide sufficient information to shoppers, such that they can choose their size with certainty. And there are some obvious steps that retailers can take to ensure shoppers are better informed, although there is no silver bullet.

Identifying the measurements of models, and the size of garment that the model is wearing for the product page photography is something that many retailers do now. But the hope that this will help still collides with the reality that shoppers frequently do not know their own measurements – rendering useless the supposedly comparable information they are given about the model. In any case, a model of certain measurements wearing one size does not automatically make it straightforward for a shopper of different measurements to choose their size with any more confidence than before.

Better photography – typically more photographs, from more angles – helps shoppers to anticipate where they will be compromising if they choose only one size. But, again, this is not a solves-all solution.

There is plenty of anticipation that the era of universally free returns is over, with several well-known brands and retailers introducing returns shipping fees. While this is a reasonable deterrent to shoppers engaging in routine ‘outfit of the day’ buying and returning, with never an intention of keeping, to shoppers genuinely buying to keep this is an unfortunate overhead to have to bear, should they need to return. Especially if that same shopper feels that there is insufficient information available, it may easily represent a deterrent to conversion.

Simulate the in-store experience

But bracketing is not a significant problem in the in-store environment – because, almost universally, shoppers with any degree of uncertainty can use the in-store fitting room to determine which of the sizes available gives them the fit they want.

The most obvious solution to the bracketing problem in the online environment, then, is to provide shoppers with the same information and experience they enjoy offline. That is to say: the ability to try the garment on, albeit virtually, in a virtual fitting room.

Do it while your shoppers still recall the in-store experience!

As a final thought, consider this: almost half of the current UK population was 14 years old or less when fashion ecommerce first emerged in 1998. A massive proportion of these individuals shop online routinely and, in the absence of the fitting room option, are becoming quite accustomed to buying multiple sizes of garments and returning those they don’t want. The new risk to retailers is that people are simply losing the habit of trying things on – which, if it becomes entrenched behaviour, could result in retailers being stuck with high levels of returns indefinitely. An AI fitting room now will remind them of the benefits of trying stuff on, before its too late. Read more about this here.

Or, just explore our site for more information.

Written by

Eoin Cambay, Founder & CEO, Swan

Eoin Cambay, Founder & CEO, Swan

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