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Could customer selfies curb online returns?

By Don-Alvin Adegeest


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Image: Returns via Pexels

Returns are the bain of digital pureplayers and retailers with ecommerce alike. The online fashion industry has one of the highest levels of retail returns, a result of fast fashion companies offering lenient returns policies for customers to have no risk in trying sizes and styles. But high volume returns come with a cost, not just for businesses, but also the environment.

High returns impede retailers in reducing their carbon footprint, just as rising transport costs from global inflation is cutting into their margins. Over half of consumers accept that returning online fashion purchases is bad for the environment.

With many software packages available to manage returns and predictive shopping metrics to help reduce the volume, new data suggests visual user-generated content (UGC) from other customers can also reduce the growing number of fashion ecommerce returns.

'Real models' could deter returns

61 percent of consumers questioned in a new poll by Nosto, which researched how consumers believe fashion retail should tackle the returns crisis, think fashion retailers can cut high return rates by including more post-purchase photos and videos from other customers. This is to help shoppers see how clothes look on ‘real’ people, not just models. 59 percent say virtual try-on tech that allows shoppers to picture themselves in outfits they find online will also help to rein back returns.

The findings come from a survey of just over 2,000 US and UK consumers commissioned b Commerce Experience Platform Nosto, which is used by fashion brands such as Patagonia, Paul Smith, Pangaia, and Todd Snyder.

The new research coincides with rising returns volumes reportedly hurting the profitability of online fashion brands such as ASOS and Boohoo. In the US, average ecommerce return rates jumped to 20.8 percent in 2021 with an estimated 671 billion dollars worth of goods being returned.

Fashion retail brands are also increasingly conscious that performing poorly on sustainability and protecting the environment can damage their credibility. Recently, several brands including H&M stopped using a tool that tries to measure the sustainability of garments over concerns about greenwashing.

Importantly, respondents to Nosto’s survey were more than twice as likely to agree that returns are bad for the environment than disagree on the basis that returns waste fuel, packaging and other resources.

“Polished, studio imagery has been the default way to show clothes off on ecommerce stores. But supplementing this with customers’ own imagery gives shoppers a more accurate reflection of how products are worn in everyday situations, and by ‘everyday people’ who also own the items,” says Damien Mahoney, Chief Strategy Officer of Nosto.

“That’s why fashion retailers are leveraging customers’ visual UGC on their websites, such as the post-purchase selfies they encourage customers to share on Instagram. The savviest retailers are also encouraging their customers to comment on the likes of products’ fit or share their measurements within captions, so others can make comparisons that better inform purchase decisions and therefore lessen returns.”