How “Try-Before-You-Buy” Is Influencing the Future of Online Returns

Sometimes, the world is unpredictable. It rains when it’s supposed to be sunny. It’s cold when it’s supposed to be hot. And the new sweater your customer ordered is way too big, despite what your sizing chart may have suggested.

To make sure they get what they want in an unpredictable world, more and more consumers are buying multiple versions of an item, trying them on at home, and initiating online clothing returns for the ones that don’t work—a shopping style known as bracketing.  According to our 2018 consumer report on ecommerce returns, 41% of all shoppers and 51% of luxury shoppers say they bracket at least some of their online purchases.

Retailers respond to bracketing and online clothing returns

This leaves retailers facing more returns than ever before. But as they say, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. And that’s exactly what retailers have done: In response to the rise of bracketing, a growing number of companies have begun offering “Try-Before-You-Buy” (TBYB) programs, which invite customers to try items at home without making them pay anything upfront. Shoppers are only charged for the items they don’t send back, offering a more elegant and customer-friendly solution than bracketing. What’s more, these programs plan ahead by baking returns into the purchasing process. They approach returns as inevitable. Because, well, they are.

Regardless of when someone’s credit card gets charged, retailers are facing a storm of intentional returns. That’s why more retailers are shifting strategies to include intentional returns in their business model, and are even using them as a way to rethink how their customers shop. Here are some of the best TBYB programs we’ve seen.

Warby Parker, the original

Direct-to-consumer eyeglass brand Warby Parker has been offering TBYB since they were founded in 2010. Their home try-on program was central to their original business model. Customers pick five frames to try on at home before choosing their favorite to turn into their latest pair of prescription lenses.   

Why we like it: Warby Parker understands that glasses are an immensely personal purchase. After all, customers wear them on their face. Their home try-on program anticipates customer needs. And it put Warby Parker glasses into the hands of millions of new customers and helped the brand grow via word-of-mouth into a $1.2 billion dollar ecommerce powerhouse.

ThirdLove, the altruist

Lingerie company Thirdlove, which boasts a range of sizes and colors to match any shape or skin tone, allows shoppers to get their first bra by only paying for shipping. After wearing the bra for 30 days, customers can either choose to return the bra for free or pay for it and keep it.

Why we like it: It creates confidence on two levels. Shoppers can feel good taking the tags off and knowing that there’s no cost to them to wear their new bra for a whole month, and they can rest easy knowing feel their returned bras won’t just get tossed in a landfill. ThirdLove donates all returned bras to charity.  

Trunk Club, the set-it-and-forget-it

Nordstrom’s Trunk Club focuses on shoppers who want someone else to do the shopping for them. The service lets shoppers discuss their style and fit preferences with a personal stylist, then choose what they want to keep from a variety of clothes and accessories shipped to their door. Customers only pay for what they keep (or they pay a $25 styling fee if they send back everything).

Why we like it: Trunk Club found a way to cater to a customer that had been traditionally difficult to reach: Namely, shoppers that don’t want to be shopping. It’s a business model that inspired scores of imitators, and it put TBYB at its heart.

Amazon, the members-only

Amazon recently added TBYB as an exclusive perk for its Prime members. Customers choose three or more items of clothing, shoes, or accessories for seven days before returning what they don’t want.

Why we like it: This new program comes on the heels of Amazon’s announcement in May that they were going to start banning customers for making too many returns. Their TBYB program is an attempt to meet customer demands for return flexibility while controlling the process.

Try, the all-in-one

The tech startup Try lets online shoppers turn virtually any mainstream online retailer into a TBYB experience.  Its mission is to make upfront payment obsolete. Through an add-on to their Chrome browser, shoppers are able to receive from their favorite ecommerce sites without paying any money upfront—that is, for seven days, after which credit cards start getting charged.

Why we like it: Try has made a business out of letting customers bracket at any store. Bracketing is already a big part of ecommerce, and it’s interesting to see a company try to standardize how it’s done.

Creating a strategy in the era of inevitable returns

So what does this mean for you if you aren’t ready to implement TBYB at your own company?

For starters, you can minimize bracketing by analyzing return reason data and using these insights to inform fit and color recommendations during the consideration phase. If your customers can predict how an item will work out for them, they won’t need to order multiples to figure out what they need.

You can also work on removing friction from your returns process. Bracketing is more prevalent among luxury shoppers, making it even more critical to encourage repeat visits by making the returns process effortless. You can accommodate these shoppers by implementing a returns platform that lets you easily manage returns, collect returns data, and recapture sales with a branded interface.

In fact, returns are actually an opportunity to create a competitive advantage. After all, 96% of customers say that they’ll become repeat customers of a retailer that can provide an easy returns process. And with the right returns solution, you can make it simple for customers to make additional purchases while completing a return.

That’s actually great news for retailers trying to improve their returns process. With the right tools, they can turn returns into the thing that makes customers come back for more.


 Want to learn more about the future of online returns? Check out our 2018 consumer study, The State of Online Returns: What Today’s Shoppers Expect.