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Why the ‘just in case’ buying decision reveals a broken customer experience

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Why the ‘just in case’ buying decision reveals a broken customer experience

bracketing-product-returns

I can honestly say I’ve never “bracketed.” But that could soon change.

Like everyone, I’m going into the holiday season not knowing what will be in stock, how long it will take to get to me and, most importantly, whether or not it will actually be something I want to keep.

The supply chain issues, coupled with the near-fanatical efforts by many retailers to push customers towards e-commerce, is probably going to lead to a lot of returns. The volume of returns might be even higher if more consumers practice “bracketing” — whereby they purchase multiple versions of the same item so as to hedge their bets.

According to a survey of more than 1,000 U.S. adults that was released earlier this month by San Francisco-based tech firm Navar, 58 per cent will be bracketing in the coming weeks. Seventy two per cent of that group said they are doing it more than they were a year ago.

Its The State of Returns: Finding What Fits report also showed that almost half, or 48 per cent, intentionally buy more than what they need when sizing or other options aren’t clear. Besides sizing, fit and colour are the main reasons for returns. (Surprisingly, I didn’t see any mention of fears around product availability mentioned in the report.)

Navar, which sells software to assist with post-purchase stages of the customer journey, focused primarily on the issue of bracketing clothes, but it’s certainly not limited to that. After recently moving into a new home, for instance, my wife admitted she had to order much more IKEA items than we needed because we weren’t sure about what we would need, and there was a panic to order before inventory ran out.

The virtual fix (and other suggestions)

An increase in bracketing may be the strongest indicator yet that digital retail experiences aren’t living up to the expectations shoppers have developed after spending most of their lives browsing in physical locations.

Of course, vendors are eager to try and prove they have technologies to solve those customer experience (CX) problems. This week another retail-related research report was released by Perfitly, a New York-based provider of virtual reality/augmented reality (VR/AR) and AI-powered virtual fitting room applications. Not surprisingly, Perfitly found that 73 per cent of online clothing returns stem from an inability to try items on. I imagine a provider of AR/VR that shows what furniture will look like in your home would come up with similar stats.

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We may be in a waiting period before those technologies are fully embraced by consumers, though. The Navar research noted that despite the availability of VR and AR tools, 88 per cent of consumers stick with traditional sources to inform their purchasing decisions. These include photos, descriptions, reviews, and sizing guides.

The most successful retailers will tackle this on both fronts: improving their existing content to provide shoppers with a better foreshadowing of what they’ll experience when their products arrive, as well as options to try things virtually.

I’d also suggest that greater availability of human assistance would help too. Yes, this could be a person behind a chatbot but I think quick and easy access to a video chat with an associate would do more to stem the tide of bracketing and returns.

In the meantime, retailers might want to reconsider their CX metrics. High customer satisfaction and NPS scores are great, but if the digital experience is such that bracketing is skyrocketing, you’ve got a problem. Customers shouldn’t be so worried about the post-purchase phase that they feel the need to overload themselves so early in the journey.

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