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By Returnalyze on March 24, 2022

Breaking Down Bracketing: Growing Trend of Online Shopping

E-commerce continues to have an ever-changing effect on the retail landscape. And when it comes to online fashion and apparel, consumer behaviors can really throw retailers for a loop. Here at Returnalyze, we're taking a closer look at the increasing phenomenon of bracketing, and how retail returns data is related to this current shopping trend. 


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What is Bracketing?

Bracketing occurs when an online shopper purchases multiple sizes and variations of an item, selects their favorites to keep, and then returns the rest to the retailer. This is a growing trend within the returns industry, and Vogue Business reports that nearly 15% of returned online purchases from multi-brand retailers are due to bracketing, adding that 58% of shoppers bought more goods in 2021 than they planned to keep.

Rather than purchasing one product, such as a dress or pair of shoes in a certain size, savvy shoppers will purchase that product in a range of sizing that may fit them – some sizes fitting more comfortably than others – to settle on the perfect item before sending back the rest. Online shoppers bracket not only according to size, but also in terms of color, material, and other details, like heel height. A luxury shoe retailer, for instance, may offer a dress shoe in both high heel and kitten heel styles, prompting an online shopper to purchase both styles of heels with the intent to return the pair they don’t want. 

At Returnalyze, we’ve found that, surprisingly, many consumers who over-purchase end up keeping more than one item. In fact, we’ve discovered that the keep rate for bracketing is higher than 75%. This means that online shoppers are actually holding on to most of the purchased products that they – and perhaps retailers – assumed would be returned. Unique returns data like this can offer incredible business information to retailers, such as insight to what sort of items are bracketed and why.


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Why do Shoppers Bracket?

There are many reasons why consumers bracket when shopping online, including preference, convenience, and necessity. 

Bracketing ensures that shoppers will receive their ideal product the first time, rather than returning a version that didn’t work and risk it being unavailable later. They’re also avoiding multiple transactions and wait times on shipping, plus eliminating additional packaging from arriving on their doorstep. Customers can simply keep the items they like best from a single purchase, and return the rest. Sounds convenient, right? And with free returns offered by many online retailers, bracketing is made even easier. 

Over-purchasing online and then returning the unwanted apparel is also a way for online shoppers to create a personal fitting room at home. And in dealing with the recent pandemic, this has proven to be a necessity for retailers and shoppers alike. With most in-store fitting rooms closed throughout the pandemic, many consumers have turned to bracketing as a way to take the guesswork out of shopping for apparel online. 


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How Does Bracketing Affect Business?

Bracketing can affect a retail business in a few surprising ways. Retailers usually assume that bracketing will hurt their bottom line, because they’re thinking about all of the unwanted products that are being returned. 

But, like we've mentioned, shoppers who bracket actually end up keeping most of their purchased items. Overall, customers hold on to more of a retailer’s product than they send back. If you’re a retailer, consider using returns insight like this to your advantage. For example, it may be beneficial to offer multiple color options for each item, since you’ve discovered that your shoppers like to bracket – and inevitably keep – additional items of various colors. 

While shoppers are bracketing for a handful of different reasons, the return rates are higher among items bracketed for size. At Returnalyze, we’ve found that many online shoppers will purchase a variation of sizes and styles, keep the style variations, and return items of the wrong size. So, retailers may experience minimal returns due to customers bracketing for color or style, but will definitely see returns due to bracketing for size. 

Unfortunately, retailers don't usually have enough visibility into bracketing, and returns insight like this simply goes unnoticed.


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Returnalyze Can Help

Taking a closer look at the returns data provides incredible business information related to bracketing. A retailer’s data analytics will determine which returns are coming from bracketing, and which returns are occurring for other reasons. It’s immensely valuable for retailers to have this business discernment, and to know if items are returned because of issues with quality, poorly written product descriptions, fit and sizing problems, or customer shopping tendencies – such as bracketing. 

As a retailer, you might even uncover incentive to accommodate shopping behaviors like bracketing, if it's proving to be beneficial to your business. Perhaps you’ll want to make it even easier for your online customers to over-purchase while shopping, by allowing them to quickly checkout with just one a click. Or, you may decide to ease the effects of bracketing by providing streamlined in-store returns for online purchases – which offers the added benefit of getting shoppers into your store.

Bracketing insight discovered within returns data can also indicate any “sacrificial lambs” – products that are consistently returned that may be affecting a retailer’s business. Remember the luxury shoe retailer who offers both high heel and kitten heel heights? This retailer may discover that their customers are bracketing for heel height, and always returning the kitten heel. As such, this luxury retailer may want to investigate why this particular shoe is regularly returned.

At Returnalyze, this is precisely the type of insight provided by our unique platform. Retailers are able to observe the buying behavior and patterns of their customers, and then act accordingly. With one intelligent dashboard, our retail partners have an ability to flag returns that occur from bracketing, discover criteria that shoppers are bracketing for, uncover their sacrificial lambs, and do so much more to change their returns outcomes. 

If you’re a retailer looking to use your own returns data to your advantage, reach out to our team to find out how we can help.

Published by Returnalyze March 24, 2022