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The Return on Returns: Battling Buyer’s Remorse

Retail returns are currently a trillion-dollar issue and while conversations may be stalling in the big boardrooms of the world, forward-thinking brands are already making moves towards better returns, from battling buyer’s remorse and reducing them altogether to elongating a garment’s lifespan with specialty services.

They say patience is a virtue. Perhaps. But it’s a virtue very few of us possess as modern day consumers.

As total products of our environment, waiting now seems unnecessary with the Bezos’ of the world ensuring that we get that new robotic hoover that everyone is raving about the next day and not a moment later. 

This ‘amazonification’ has infiltrated fashion retail too. Nearly every mainstream fast fashion retailer now offers a premier delivery subscription service, giving customers free and unlimited next or selected-day delivery on all of their orders on a year by year basis. 

No perceptible delivery fee. More frequent orders. More profit. Smart move.

Until the returns start rolling in. 

While we are seeing a new savvy shift in consumer behaviour, returns are still a trillion-dollar problem for both mainstream and luxury retailers with at least 30% of all ecommerce purchases being sent back.

Why?

A large portion of returns – nearly 50% – are due to sizing issues or damaged goods, while other reasons stem from psychological factors like unmet expectations or buyer’s remorse.

Breaking Down Buyer’s Remorse

We’ve all felt it. That feeling of regret after an unnecessary or extravagant purchase. This used to be almost exclusively associated with high-value items like property or shiny new cars, but with the rapid rise of online shopping, exacerbated by pandemic-induced boredom, buyer’s remorse is becoming increasingly common.

Psychologically speaking, the feeling is often brought on by a sense of caution and doubt as to whether the right decision has been made. 

Discount site Slickdeals conducted a poll in which 74% of respondents experienced buyer’s remorse following an online purchase. Of that number, 39% felt the item was less valuable than expected, 34% found they didn’t use the item as much as initially expected and 32% felt they spent too much money in the first place.

Commonly referred to as impulse buying, quick (maybe even rash) purchasing decisions have become the norm as the experience lacks any friction. The ease with which we can buy something and have it in our hands less than 24 hours later is not only causing regret, wastefulness and dissatisfaction, it also hugely devalues brands. 

Of course, customer experience should be seamless but it should also feel significant. Immediacy isn’t gratifying us anymore, especially when it comes to luxury. 

Our feelings post-purchase need to feel worthy of the investment made. We need healthy friction in the buying process – that is, some sense of calibrated effort on behalf of the buyer and brand designed to combat cognitive dissonance and anticipated regret, particularly in a market that is more discerning than ever.

Cyclical & Sustainable: The Future of Fashion Returns

It will come as no surprise to anyone that high levels of returns are becoming fatally damaging for our planet. In the US alone, it’s estimated that 5 billion pounds of returned goods end up in landfill every year and hauling that returned inventory back and forth emits over 15 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide annually.  

Generally, mass consumerism gave all of us a wasteful mindset. We replaced instead of fixed. We threw away instead of repurposing. We carelessly filled bins instead of effectively recycling. 

Landfill

Now we’re all that little bit more conscious about our behaviours, the luxury-defining ‘only wear once’ trend that took over high fashion circles is now firmly out of fashion. 

‘As spending comes under scrutiny by a more cautious post-pandemic consumer, product functionality and purpose will drive purchases. Value can now be measured in quality, convenience, and a cool currency that tops any luxury one, with spend-savviness now embedded in everyday wellbeing and sustainability.’

To cater to this shift, brands are now challenging their once-stress-free returns process. High street retailer Zara has become one of the latest brands to begin charging a fee for online returns, while returning in-store is still free of charge.

Although some customers are struggling to adjust to this new obstacle, industry voices are praising the fashion giant and expecting others to follow suit. Post-pandemic, it’s an effective tactic for driving customers back into stores, plus stock is back in store much quicker than it would be via an online returns process. 

Resisting Returns: What Brands Need To Do To Combat Returns

1. Educate

As conscious consumers, we know our buying behaviours need to change. But, while we are aware of it, everyone is busy and tired and although environmental factors are playing into our decision-making more, they’re considerably less compelling when all we want is a hyper-efficient pick-me-up.

Brands need to better educate their customers on the intricacies of their purchases. If brands invested more in the digital experience – e.g. better fitting, material and source descriptions, sizing charts that accurately navigate existing body variations – they wouldn’t have such significant returns issues.

Go one step further and get informative about the impact of the returns process. The amount of CO2 emissions produced by their return, where the item could end up and so on. Awareness is something to aim for in new luxury fashion. 

 

2. Embrace New Tech

While the high cost of borrowing is to blame for Klarna’s current downswing, their ‘try before you buy’ model is foundationally a good one. 

Brands who incorporate AI technology and augmented reality for virtual fittings and experimentation – even offering potential buyers the ability to see a garment’s versatility within their personal wardrobe – could drastically reduce the need for returns. 

Threekit, a 3D configurator, virtual photographer and augmented reality platform, already offers this service to eCommerce brands. Catering to customers’ ‘higher visual expectations than ever’, retailers working with Threekit sell 50% more than they did prior. 

 

3. Set The Story

The need for a narrative is essential at every stage of the buyer’s journey, from awareness triggers to relationship management and renewal. 

As consumers we want to know we’re making good decisions – the ‘right’ decisions – and we invent narratives for ourselves to rationalise those decisions. 

So when a brand can offer us reassurance through authentic storytelling and take the onus off us to justify and explain our purchases, we’re far less likely to return items or experience buyer’s remorse. 

 

4. Add a Special Something

Parting with our hard-earned cash is both becoming more and more difficult and simultaneously easier than ever. 

Contactless card transactions and payment instalment schemes mean the reality of transferring money is increasingly less visible and therefore so much easier to do and, usually, is where buyer’s remorse sets in as the gratification isn’t as overwhelming as anticipated. 

Giving a customer an extra something – anything from digital duplicates of their items to deluxe samples or personalised notes – does wonders in dissipating regret before it sets in, especially for a luxury brand. In luxury, it’s all about the experience so creating a memorable one will not only avoid returns but also build brand loyalty.

 

5. Highlight Stores as Physical Touchpoints

Pushes to reimagine in-store spaces as exhibitions, galleries and more are the new frontier in retail’s reinvention. Using stores as places to get physical with products and services adds a new level to your customer experience. Attachment and desire become more real in real life settings. 

Dyson’s Oxford Street Demo Store offers a whole lot more than you can get online. From exclusive products and services to in-person expertise and one-to-one care and attention, the customer-oriented experience is sure to contribute to, if not entirely satisfy, our human need for indulgence. 

Even if, and it’s likely, customers leave the store aiming to purchase online, the conversion happened there. Your store is where customers are convinced. 

 

6. Incorporate Repair and Restoration Services

Where luxury has always excelled is in dealings of exclusivity and an irreplaceable quality. For many, timeless literally means timeless so brands need to make the move from a product mindset to a service mindset.

Creating and actively advertising repair and restoration services adds an element of care to your customers while also elongating their relationship with your brand. 

Obviously items needing constant repairs is another story, one removed from conversations on luxury, but if every so often a clasp breaks or a button could do with a restitch, an easy, enjoyable repair service will only serve to highlight your brand’s brilliance, reduce waste and keep returns low. 

 

Luxury Leads, Fast Fashion Follows

The COVID-19 pandemic and online shopping’s ongoing market domination has led to luxury brands scrambling to keep up with fast fashion. Now that the world can catch its breath, luxury needs to take the lead again. 

Fast fashion will never be sustainable. Whereas slow, thoughtful processes are a premium that define luxury retail – one that should be increasingly highlighted to a more sustainability-centric consumer base.

Sustainability isn’t a competition by any means, it is a necessary shift that luxury has the ability to lead. Brands need to be unafraid of experiences that prioritise emotional engagement over ease of conversion. They need to embrace healthy friction. They need to be bold. 

 If you'd like to discuss how we partner with luxury brands to provide strategic design and tech services, please get in touch via hello@matterofform.com to arrange a time to speak with our team of consultants.

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Published by MOF Team

We are a 60-person Luxury Brand and Digital Agency with soul. We help timeless brands design what’s next. STRATEGY + DESIGN + TECH