How to Reduce Online Return Bracketing
Rebecca Fox

March 12, 2023

Customers fill up online carts with items of multiple sizes and colors with the intention of trying them on at home and then returning what they don’t want. This increasingly common habit is called bracketing, and it can have a huge impact on your bottom line. 

By taking a closer look at what bracketing is and why it happens, you can start to put processes in place to reduce online return bracketing while improving the customer experience.

What is Online Bracketing?

Online bracketing is when customers order multiple versions of the same item to try at home, planning to return what they don’t want. 

Whether it’s size, style, color, or pattern, customers use bracketing to explore different options and return any items that don’t quite hit the mark. 58% of customers over-order with the intention of returning items that don’t fit or they don’t like. 

Why Does Bracketing Happen?

Bracketing happens when customers who are uncertain of their size or aren’t sure which color or pattern they prefer order a few different ones.

Other categories other than apparel are also affected by bracketing. For example, when customers aren’t sure if a rug will look good between their couch and their TV, they are likely to buy the rug, try it, and then decide. 

When shopping in a physical retail store, customers typically pick out items, try them on in the fitting room to make sure they like the look and fit, and then buy the items they want. 

Similarly, bracketing turns customers’ bedrooms into personal fitting rooms. Instead of trying on items and then purchasing them, customers buy items and then try them in their own time, returning whatever doesn’t fit or they don’t like.

What Are the Effects of Bracketing?

Bracketing affects eCommerce stores by costing money on packaging, labor, shipping, and warehouse space.

This can put a strain on your store’s resources, and it is important to manage returns efficiently in order to reduce the impact on your business.

Another reason bracketing is problematic is that it can create artificial inventory shortages. A bracketed purchase involves several variants being taken out of inventory at once, only for some to reappear later. This makes it hard to keep track of inventory and anticipate replenishment needs.

Returned items often aren’t resellable and are discarded, which leads to significant revenue loss and huge environmental damage.

The negative effects of bracketing on your resources are a good sign to take a closer look at your customer experience and see what you can do to reduce online bracketing.

How to Reduce Online Return Bracketing

In order to reduce bracketing, focus on making it easier for customers to be sure of what they want to buy before placing the order, and to exchange items they don’t want for ones that will suit them better.

Here are a few steps you can take to discourage online bracketing. 

Provide Detailed Product Pages

Make sure to include plenty of details on your product pages to ensure that customers are informed about products before making a purchase, so they can act with intention and feel confident in their decision.

Provide clearly written and accurate product descriptions, and make sure to include all the details customers might need.

Start by imagining your ideal customer. What level of humor do they appreciate? What type of language do they use? What questions do they ask?

Consider how you would speak to your customers if you were selling to them face to face. And then incorporate that language into your eCommerce site, creating a similar depth of communication.

Include sizing charts and high-quality photos and videos on your product pages to help your customers make their purchasing decision. 

A combination of high-quality product descriptions, sizing guides, and imagery will ensure your customers can be confident they are buying the right product for them.

Include User-Generated Content

User-generated content (UGC) is original, specific content created by customers such as reviews, photos, testimonials, and more.

89% of customers factor customer reviews into their buying decisions. Display user-generated content directly on your product pages to reassure customers and help them make sure they’re buying the right thing for them. Use an app like Loox to collect user-generated content and display it clearly on your product pages.

USG is an authentic source of information that customers are more likely to trust than your branded content. This is because 88% of customers trust recommendations from people they know more than from any other channel. 

Customers turn to user-generated content in the same way they’d ask their friends or family for an opinion. Think of user-generated content as modern-day word of mouth.

Track Buying Trends

As an online merchant, it can be challenging to identify a widespread bracketing problem. This is because you are only able to see a problem when a product has high sale rates as well as being returned often. 

The returns process is a great opportunity to gather data on which items are most often returned and why. 

Asking your customers for reasons for their returns can help you identify areas of friction in your online shopping experience that may be prompting bracketing.

By determining which items are bracketed most frequently, you can adjust sizing, improve product pages and look for other ways to reduce bracketing.

Offer Easy Exchanges

Make it easy for customers to exchange items. 

Save them the hassle of buying an item, trying it at home, finding out that it’s not suitable, returning it, and then making an entirely new order for the right size/color/type.

Make the exchange process more efficient so that customers can quickly and easily exchange their purchased item for one that fits their needs.

Use a returns management system to encourage customers to exchange rather than return items. Make it easy for customers to exchange their items by automatically suggesting alternative sizes when they list ‘size’ as their return reason, and other smart resolutions.

Offering a convenient exchange process is a great strategy to reduce bracketing at your online store. Improve the returns and exchange experience so that bracketing is no longer necessary, instead of punishing customers who bracket.

Less Uncertainty Means Less Bracketing

Bracketing happens when customers aren’t sure exactly what they want. Reduce the element of uncertainty by providing clear product details, photos, and customer reviews. 

Use an automated returns solution to make exchanges easier so that customers can replace items that don’t fit without a hassle.

Reducing bracketing improves the online shopping experience for all sides involved.

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