C&B Notes

Are Retailers Overpromising?

Consumers are being conditioned to enjoy a very expensive solution (for the retailers) to the complicated problems of look and fit when shopping for many product categories online. Over the longer-term and in order to be profitable, the retailers will need to be compensated for this service. We are dubious that consumers will be willing to pay for it.

I have a friend who shops in a way I never even thought was possible.  She buys clothing for herself and her two kids online, like an increasing number of humans, only when she does it she orders three sizes of everything.  She buys the size she thinks she needs and one size larger and one smaller.  She might even toss in a variety of colors for those sizes thereby increasing her order size exponentially.  Then, after receiving a truckload of boxes (I’ve seen her get as many as 20!), she’ll return most of them containing all the items she doesn’t like or don’t fit.  This seemed outrageous to me when I first heard about it.  But that was before I learned her secret and realized her approach could be tempered so that it wasn’t so wasteful.

My friend shops at a site that offers free returns; something most online retailers now offer so long as you bring the boxes to a drop-off point yourself.  But many online shops including Zalando, her shop of choice here in The Netherlands, will now pick up her superfluous deliveries at her house, for free, and within a one-hour scheduled window.  And she has up to 100 days to do it.  I, like many of you I’d wager, buy most of my household and personal gear online — anything but clothing.  Shopping for clothes has always felt too risky due to concerns about fit, textures, or the maker’s ability to render the true color of the apparel on my screen.  Things I needed to see in person.  My friend’s approach solves all that so I just had to give it a try, using my wife and daughter as proxies, of course…

I was impressed by just how easy the whole process was.  Free delivery, a one-hour scheduled pick-up window from my home, and prompt refunds combine to reduce the friction of online clothes shopping to near zero.  So yeah, you’d better believe I’m now checking if free home pickup is a service offered for returns when I’m shopping for clothes online — it’s a competitive advantage.  Data suggests that 30 to 40 percent of all clothing purchases made online are returned.  This new approach would make that closer to 100 percent which feels icky, bordering on over-consumption.  Although I’m not entirely sure my sense of guilt is warranted.  Yes, it would seem to be wasteful, requiring the shipment and return of a lot of product that requires fuel.  But is it, especially for those of us living in fairly dense cities?

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