Can Selfies Help Reduce Apparel Returns?

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Admit it, we’ve all become selfie-obsessed. It’s hard to go anywhere or to any function where an arm isn’t extended, phone in hand and camera reversed, to grab a quick group shot. But can the ubiquitous selfie help solve the nagging problem of apparel returns?

That’s the assertion of Nosto, provider of what it calls a commerce experience platform, which commissioned a survey of 2,000 consumers in the U.S. and the UK. In the online poll, 61% of respondents said if brands posted photos and videos online of actual shoppers wearing their products, it would cut down on the number of returns.

“Polished, studio imagery has been the default way to show clothes off on ecommerce stores,” said Damien Mahoney, Chief Strategy Officer of Nosto. “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.”

The survey found that 62% of women and 51% of men who responded believed visual user-generated content (UGC) helps them make better purchase decisions.

Roughly the same number of respondents (59%) told Nosto the use of virtual try-on tools said is another way apparel returns could be reduced. There has been a proliferation of such tools in recent years, with vendors making the same claim of a return reduction benefit as shoppers get a more accurate sense of fit and appearance.

The more ecommerce grows, the greater the flood of returns, especially with so many serial returners happily practicing “bracketing,” i.e., purchasing multiple items with the intention of keeping just one – with apparel returns by far the largest offender category.

Retailers lost $218 billion to ecommerce returns in 2021, at a rate of 20.8% of goods sold, according to a fall 2021 survey conducted by Apriss Retail for the National Retail Federation, up from 18.1% in 2020. Total retail returns came back at a rate of 16.6% or $761 billion, up from 10.6% in 2020.

The growth in returns and the high costs have led more retailers to eliminate longstanding policies of free returns, such as Zara did recently, but there could be a blowback effect. Still, nearly half of those surveyed by Nosto (49%) said eliminating free returns would cut down on the practice. Zara customers can avoid the fee by returning items to a store, but the majority of consumers opt for shipping stuff back, per a Narvar survey.

Ecommerce returns reduction of course has substantial benefits, in terms of reverse logistics costs. An April survey by Pitney Bowes found they cost retailers an average of 21% of order value. And there’s the environmental impact, with more shoppers wanting to see brands doing their part in that regard, voting with their purchases and brand loyalty. Nearly half of the Nosto respondents (49%) agreed returns have an adverse environmental impact, vs. 17% who disagreed.

A 2018 report from returns logistics firm Optoro found that returns logistics in the U.S. creates more than 15 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually, equal to the output of 3 million cars.