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Returns Strain Retailers as Consumers Buy to Try

  • With the growth of e-commerce, customers have increasingly been “bracketing,” or purchasing the same product multiple times to test out different versions before returning most of the purchases
  • The practice can create major headaches for retailers, including higher shipping costs and inventory disruptions
  • Strategies such as strengthening customer resources and offering virtual or augmented reality experiences can help address the issue

Summary by Dirk Langeveld

As e-commerce has grown, so has a practice known as “bracketing” that can create major headaches for retailers.

Bracketing occurs when a shopper purchases the same product multiple times to try out different colors, sizes, or other attributes. They then decide which item they want to keep and return the rest to the retailer for a refund.

Shoppers are more likely to engage in bracketing if a business offers free shipping and returns. While some retailers are content to permit the practice, others are experiencing significant disruptions from it. If your company is engaged in e-commerce, you should be aware of bracketing and how to address the issue.

  • Bracketing has been going on for years, but has become more common with the boom of e-commerce associated with the COVID-19 pandemic; customers have also been using the practice as a way to test out a new brand
  • Challenges posed to retailers due to bracketing include higher shipping and packaging costs, unpredictability in inventories, the potential need to discard or mark down returned items, and challenges in having workers process returns
  • Retailers can curtail bracketing by offering resources to help shoppers find exactly what they want, such as sizing charts and photos showing different types of a product being modeled
  • Virtual reality and augmented reality options can help resolve the issue by providing customers with a chance to test out products without physically acquiring them
  • Retailers can also analyze sales to see which items are most susceptible to bracketing, seek customer feedback on how their experience can be improved, and work with a third-party returns management provider

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