More than ever, the wrong returns policy can make or break a fashion retailer.
Shoppers are increasingly buying apparel online, despite the uncertainties that come with it: Choosing the right size is often a crapshoot, even with retailers’ best efforts to provide fit guidance. And, unlike when shopping in store, there’s no way to test a style’s comfort or get a feel for its quality. As a result, returns and exchanges policies have never been under more scrutiny. There’s too much risk involved without the proper cushion.
Online apparel sales now represent 20 percent of total industry dollars, according to data by market research company NPD Group. And 30 percent of clothing and shoes bought online are returned, a rate that’s double that of pieces bought in store, as stated in a report by Bold Metrics.
根据市场调研公司NPD Group的数据显示，网上服装销售目前占整个行业的20%。在Bold Metrics的报告中称在网上购买的衣服和鞋子中，有30%被退回，这一比率是商店中购买的两倍。
Retailers are finding new ways to take the guesswork out of the online buying process. Zara, for one, is testing an online-focused store concept with its click-and-collect pop-up it’s hosting in London through May. Shoppers can pick up online orders the same day, and return and exchange styles on the spot.
Other retailers, including Nordstrom, have maintained an “anything goes” returns policy, allowing customers to change their mind about purchases months later, even after they’ve removed the tags.
Earlier this month, L.L.Bean abruptly ended its generous, lifetime satisfaction guarantee with a Facebook post by executive chairman Shawn Gordon. It cited abuse of the system, costing the company $250 million over the last five years.
The new policy allows for returns within a year, with proof of purchase.
Revolve has also implemented a “modified returns policy,” which some have discovered the hard way.
“I was using Revolve like a try-on-before-you-buy service: buys tons of things, returning all but maybe two,” said a Sacramento-based shopper, who asked to remain anonymous. “Now I have to pay a 15 percent restocking fee when I return anything. I started shopping at Shopbop instead.”
A fellow shopper reported a similar buy-and-return ritual when shopping Shopbop and Zara, as well as Net-a-Porter “because they are so speedy with refunds.” All three retailers provide free returns within around 30 days of purchase (28 days for Net-a-Porter).
“If I go to purchase anything, I now get the message: ‘You’ve been warned,’” said the shopper.
As retailers increasingly feel the brunt of e-commerce returns, updated guidelines like these are set to become more prevalent, said David Naumann, vp of marketing at consulting firm Boston Retail Partners.
“Retail returns policies will likely evolve to moderate returns policies that won’t turn off customers and won’t bankrupt the company,” he said. “A reasonable returns policy will have a realistic time limit and won’t charge shipping for damaged, inferior or exchanged goods.”
“Updating our returns policy is something we are pleased to give our customers in order for them to have the best shopping experience possible,” Linda Chang, the company’s vp of merchandising, told Refinery29.
Even retailers specializing in custom fashion have are permitting customers to place orders without risk. , the L.A.-based brand making made-to-order apparel in a range of styles, offers free returns and promises no-commitment shopping. Customers have seven days to return unwanted pieces. Custom footwear brand Shoes of Prey allows shoppers to return unworn shoes up to a year after purchase.
As the going gets tougher for retailers, they’ll have to decide how much flexibility they can afford to provide.