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    Bracketing Online Purchases: What It Is and How It Impacts Retailers

    June 29, 2023
    9 minute read
    Bracketing Online Purchases: What It Is and How It Impacts Retailers

    Think of the last time you made an online clothing purchase from a well-known retailer. You probably scoured their website, read the product descriptions, and then added two or three of the same item — in different sizes or colors — to your cart.

    If this is how you shop, you’re not alone. Narvar’s “2022 Returns Benchmark” report shows 63% of shoppers surveyed admitted to buying items to try on and then returning what doesn’t work. The same report says a growing number of shoppers (15%) say this is “‘just how they shop now.’”

    While “buy and try” is among many growing consumer retail trends as ecommerce continues to boom, it’s not the ideal shopping scenario for retailers. Even though consumers are technically buying more, they’re also returning more, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). This practice is expensive, considering free shipping and returns are only free for consumers — not retailers.

    Here’s a deep dive into the buy-and-try phenomenon, its impact, and how retailers can steer consumers away from this practice.

    What Is Bracketing?

    Bracketing is the official name for when consumers purchase multiple versions of an item with the intention of keeping only one and returning the rest. 

    Because of uncertainties around fit and personal style, bracketing happens most often in the fashion and apparel verticals, according to Retail Dive. But it isn’t exclusive to apparel. Other industries, including electronics, furniture, and home goods, have also seen a rise in bracket purchases.

    It makes sense why customers engage in bracket purchases. Without the need to physically visit stores, customers can explore a wider array of products and sizes from the comfort of their homes. Additionally, lax return policies from online retailers allow for easy and free returns, taking all the risk out of making returns for consumers.

    The rise in bracket purchases in recent years reflects an increasingly customer-centric retail landscape but also highlights the pressing need for retailers to innovate and manage the complexities of returns.

    What Are the Impacts of Bracketing Online Purchases on Retailers?

    The impact of bracketing extends far beyond the logistical inconvenience of handling returns — it has broad financial, operational, and even environmental implications for businesses.

    Here are the major impacts of bracketing on retail.

    High Costs of Returns

    Every return entails costs for inspection, restocking, and potentially refurbishing the item, not to mention the reverse logistics cost of shipping the product back to the warehouse. These costs can significantly decrease profit margins.

    Stock Issues

    With bracket purchases, products are constantly on the move, complicating inventory management. The unpredictability of returns can lead to stock imbalances, affecting both sales and operations.

    Losses Due to Damaged Products

    There's always a risk of damage or wear and tear with returns, which translates into direct losses for retailers.

    Environmental Impacts Due to Shipping

    The increased shipping and logistics contribute to a larger carbon footprint. The environmental cost of bracket purchases adds a layer of sustainability concern for businesses.

    Customer Experience Challenges

    As bracket purchases become more common, retailers may feel the need to tighten return policies, which could potentially drive away shoppers.

    Strain on Resources

    Higher volumes of returns mean more employees needed in the workforce and resources needed to process them.

    Impact on Pricing

    To offset costs associated with bracket purchases, retailers might have to increase prices. 

    Given these impacts, it's crucial for retailers to strategically manage bracket purchases, balancing customer satisfaction with the sustainability of their operations.

    What Are Some Solutions to Bracket Purchases?

    Unless retailers dramatically change their return policies, which could drive away customers, bracket purchases can’t be completely avoided.

    While bracket purchases are unavoidable, here are some potential solutions to help reduce them.

    Optimize Product Pages

    Detailed descriptions, high-quality and diverse images, excellent videos, and other high-quality product page content give customers a rich view of products, helping them select the right product the first time.

    Implement Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) Try-On Tools

    VR has come a long way in recent years, making it possible for consumers to try on clothing, makeup, glasses, and other products with the help of a smart device.

    AR can simulate the experience of seeing how a product looks in a specific room or setting, eliminating the need to ship more than one product to a location.

    Include 3D Models

    Retailers can also show off their products by including 3D product shots. These show consumers how the product looks and works from every angle.

    Add User-Generated Content (UGC)

    Seeing real-life people interacting with a product can provide a clearer sense of its look, fit, or functionality.

    Photograph Diverse Models

    Using models of different body types, skin tones, and ages can give consumers a more accurate expectation of how a product might look or fit them.

    Opt for Sustainable and Minimal Packaging

    This reduces environmental impact and can lower shipping costs, making returns less costly for both the retailer and the consumer.

    Invest in Size and Fit Technologies

    Advanced software can predict a customer's size based on inputs like height, weight, and body shape, reducing the need for bracket purchases in apparel.

    Enhance Customer Service

    Providing immediate, personalized assistance can help address customer queries and uncertainties, preventing the need for bracketing.

    The best way to reduce bracket purchases is to do everything in your power to make the digital shopping experience mimic the in-person shopping experience. The more information you provide customers and the easier it is for them to understand how your products look, feel, taste, work, etc., the higher the chances.

    Reduce Bracket Purchases With the Right Tools

    While it’s true bracketing online purchases is growing among consumers, there are ways for retailers to reduce the buy-and-try phenomenon — and it all starts with providing a better online shopping experience.

    One way to do this efficiently is with the help of a product experience management (PXM) solution. A PXM solution helps retailers curate, manage, and distribute product information consistently across all sales channels, enhancing the overall shopping experience, building consumer trust, and reducing the need to buy in excess only to return later.

    Equip your business with the right tools and watch your return numbers decrease and consumer satisfaction increase.

    Report: 2023 Shopper Research

    Want to learn all about the latest consumer shopping trends and behaviors? Check out Salsify’s “2023 Shopper Research” report for additional information about how to deliver what shoppers want and need in this changing consumer landscape.


    Written by: Ashley R. Cummings

    Ashley R. Cummings (she/her) is a freelance writer specializing in ecommerce software as a service (SaaS). Her words appear across the web in places like Insider, LinkedIn, ShopifyPlus, and Hashtagpaid.

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    Report: 2023 Shopper Research Want to learn all about the latest consumer shopping trends and behaviors? Check out Salsify’s “2023 Shopper Research” report for additional information about how to deliver what shoppers want and need in this changing consumer landscape. VIEW REPORT