Published 2 years ago.
About a 3 minute read.
Image: Chriatian Enriquez/Pexels
Retailers and brands that view themselves as leaders in a customer's online shopping journey, and want to keep their trust in sustainability initiatives, need to solve the root of the return culture problem: Fit. Sizeable advancements in AI and machine learning have put the perfect fit in the hands of everyone.
Ten years ago, the majority of shoppers only felt comfortable buying shoes in
person. Local shoe stores had a selling opportunity within a 20-mile radius. In
a world of free returns, virtual sizing
and online reviews, shoes can now be bought online, from anywhere in the world,
with ease. The problem? They can also be returned with ease.
While it’s easy to blame consumers for buying multiple items, keeping whatever
fits and sending back the rest, the reality is not all returns are
shopper-driven. In fact, the majority (73 percent) of returns occur due to a
retailer-controllable action, according to Incisiv’s 2021 Retail Returns
report. There is an active opportunity for retailers and brands to reduce the
nearly 6 billion pounds of landfill waste and 16 million tons of CO2 their
returns contribute to annually.
During the pandemic, many trends that were already taking place in retail —
trends including appointment scheduling, virtual fittings, curbside pickup and
contactless payments, to name a few — sped up and benefitted shoppers by making
their experience more convenient, seamless and safer. Yet, one negative uptick
for online consumers, retailers and the environment has been free returns due to
inconsistent sizing. Both of these factors have helped create the return culture
when it comes to online shopping.
The return culture emerged and became such a significant factor in environmental
waste because retailers started offering free shipping for purchases and returns
to stay competitive; and customers now expect it before making a purchase. And
as Susan Cullinane, a professor at the University of Gothenburg's
School of Business, Economics and Law, points out: "Almost no one dares to
charge for returned goods." Her 2018 report, Substantial Environmental Impact From Returned Goods,
explains that return culture began as a result of free return policies coupled
with inconsistency in sizing, both harming the environment and customer
Unlock customer insights on sustainability & your brand’s unique performance! Submit your brand (or any brand) into the 2024 annual study and receive unparalleled insights on customer perception of that brand’s performance. Benchmark how your customers rate your brand on social and environmental sustainability and overall brand trust, while seeing how your brand compares to others in the study. Space is limited! The deadline to become part of the study is January 15, 2024.
Shoe-fit measurements are a challenging task. Online shopping, inconsistent
sizing and free returns have turned homes into private fitting rooms filled with
multiple sizes and styles. As a result of this, the average e-commerce return
rate is 2-3 times higher than in-store. Over-ordering and free returns are not
sustainable solutions for the environment, the customer journey or a brand's
So, what can e-commerce channels do? Those that can deliver an accurate online
shoe fit can reduce returns. With the myriad of complex manufacturing processes,
standardizing shoe sizes is nearly impossible. Instead, "retailers can apply
digital technology to help customers make better choices while shopping,"
Sizeable advancements in AI and machine learning have put the perfect fit in the
hands of everyone. We’re now in a world where online shoppers have the ability
to accurately measure their feet with a mobile device and see what shoes best
fit their unique measurements. These personalized recommendations provide a
number of benefits to retailers — including more sales conversions, higher order
values, improved inventory management and an enhanced customer experience.
By enhancing shoppers’ experience with accurate size recommendations, retailers
help free shoppers from ordering multiple sizes, reduce packaging waste, and
decrease overall vehicle time on the road — not to mention saving the unwanted
inventory from ending its short life in a
Retailers and brands that view themselves as leaders in a customer's online
shopping journey, and keep their trust in sustainability initiatives, need to
solve the root of the return culture problem: Fit.
Published Sep 2, 2021 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 1pm BST / 2pm CEST
Alper Aydemir is CEO of Volumental — a Swedish "FitTech" company that produces shoe recommendations for millions of shoppers by leveraging a combination of 3D foot scans, retail purchase data and AI.