Trend: Bracketing

Parcel return locations

What is bracketing, and how does it affect e-commerce returns?

According to the latest study Economic Outlook del Instituto Mastercard, the return rate is higher for e-commerce purchases than in physical shops. The report ranks Spain, the UK and Germany as the countries where consumers return the most purchases to e-commerce shops.

On the other hand, bracketing is another trend on the rise. If there is any doubt about choosing between one garment or another, with this trend gaining more and more followers every day, the question is dispelled. Buying several similar garments (for example, a jumper in two different sizes and two different shades) with the expectation of returning at least two of the garments, is already a trend that is beginning to take its toll on many online shops and that undoubtedly affects environmental sustainability.

Bracketing: advantage or disadvantage?

While it is true that this increasingly widespread practice offers consumers benefits such as greater flexibility and, therefore, a better shopping experience, it negatively impacts both online shops and the environment. Even though one of the main reasons for customer loyalty is free shipping (rather than fast shipping), many companies have already started to charge for returns.

For example, Amazon has been restricting users' accounts with a very high rate of returns for some time. In countries such as the US, some brands allow customers to keep some products to avoid the high costs of a return to the company.

These are the main consequences of bracketing:

  1. Generates higher transport use, which leads to increased carbon emissions.
  2. Increases operational costs, arising from logistical processing and storage of returns.
  3. It increases the level of waste and environmental pollution, as many returned products that cannot be re-sold are often discarded.
  4. It exacerbates the consumption of natural resources, caused by the additional use of packaging.

How to achieve a balance?

Certain practices can help to build customer loyalty after a purchase and reduce the negative impact of this type of trend, which is very common, for example, among millennials.

  1. Provide detailed product information: providing as accurate descriptions as possible, including high-quality images that reflect the reality of the product you are selling, is essential to making good decisions without buying multiple products.
  2. Encourage product reviews: they help to complete the information and provide more detail about the products, facilitating the purchasing decision.
  3. Employing other technologies: for example, the use of augmented reality or virtual mannequins.
  4. Offer clear return policies: they should make customers aware of the costs involved in a return, without neglecting their needs, i.e. they should be flexible but also cost-effective. As part of this awareness, one strategy could be to set limits on the number of returns in a given period of time and, on the other hand, to inform customers at all times of the costs and negative effects that a return has for the company and for the environment.
  5. Proactive communication with the consumer: knowing the reasons that lead the customer to make returns provides very valuable information for an e-commerce, as it can find out what the level of satisfaction is, what their needs and concerns are and thus improve their shopping experience.
  6. Establish loyalty programmes: offering access to exclusive benefits or membership programmes can increase consumer engagement.

Returns account for between 2 and 4% of an e-commerce company's annual turnover, according to Jorge Mas, CEO and founder of the retail consultancy Crearmas.

"Return policies have hardly changed since the birth of the online channel and allow consumers to return what they do not want, free of charge. It was a strategy to overcome the fears of buying in an e-commerce without having previously seen the product, but this fear has passed and the formula of buying many products to keep only one or none, is not viable either for business or for the environment," says the expert.

According to several studies, one of the main reasons for consumers bracketing is the difficulty in locating their correct size. In addition to the option of virtual fitting rooms, online shops are designing more accurate size guides with the help of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. In this way, technology becomes the perfect ally to combat the "I want it now and if it doesn't fit, that's fine, I'll just return it and that's it" and to encourage shopping where respect, awareness and sustainability are paramount.