Bra stores have always had strict return policies for lingerie.
In the past, the only way we shopped was in-store. Strict policies were standard across all retail segments.
No one thought of them as draconian then. Sometimes we have to dig deep into our memory to remember that 20 years ago debit machines were an anomaly. The world was different. And the return policies reflected the times.
Well, the times have changed. For bra stores. And the bra store customer.
The shopping experience has gone through a monumental shift. Included has been the drastic change to the way the world sees and deals with returns.
Still, many lingerie stores have not changed and hold onto old return policies. These outdated return policies is a main reason why many lingerie stores have not been able to maximize the potential of their online stores
There are different reasons lingerie stores have poor return policies.
A lot of bra stores have been around for a long time. Generational stores. Established and built pre-internet and pre-ecommerce.
A store that has been running for 20 years and never gave returns, bristles. Refunding bras that leave the premises is unheard of.
There is a reluctance to give money back. Exchanges and credit notes are more common. But even credit notes come with terms.
Once the money enters the store, it stays within their ecosystem.
Many bra stores have not gauged that a bra sold online is a different type of sale from a bra sold in-store. A bra sold in-store and a bra sold online are different phenomenons.
Having less return options for in-store purchases makes sense.
Those sales are guided. The bra fitter augments the experience. The customer rarely leaves with an ill fitting bra. Rarely. Sometimes. But rarely.
In-store, the customer has all the opportunity to try the product on and get bra advice. Customers can touch the fabric. They try the bra on. Sit. Stand. Bend over. Run with the bra on! They have an opportunity to test it out.
The in-store experience allows the customer to make an informed decision.
The same cannot be said for the online experience.
Plenty of bra stores do not want to sell bras online.
Their online store serves to give their customers access to their product lines from home.
Their online store is leveraged to bring the customer into the store or used to re-fill orders for bras previously purchased.
Their online bra store is an extension of their brick and mortar for their existing clients.
These stores are not trying to expand their online reach beyond their base. As such as they have no desire to tailor their return policy to attract online customers.
Other stores struggle with the work of building, maintaining, and expanding online reach. Not to mention the expense.
Selling bras online is a slow build.
If you have a strong customer base that is tech saavy, it is easier for an online store to service them. But to expand beyond your geographical area and tap into markets nationwide or abroad takes time. And effort. And money.
We meet stores who give up listing online. Their sales were slow, their reach limited, and the effort huge to only reach their existing client base. They were working more to serve the same people.
These bra stores are not going to tailor an ecommerce return policy for their website.
Seems like almost hearsay to not publish a return policy in this day and age.
One of the main staples of running any online store, especially if one desires to appeal to an audience beyond their existing client base, is to make sure you have clear policies published on your site.
Even with a staggering (when’s the last time we saw 90% of anything?!) percentage, bra stores in Canada continuously fail to write and publish a proper policy.
For any store that is looking to improve their online experience, creating a return policy that is in line with the current shopping expectations is key.
We know that 90% of shoppers are influenced by a store’s return policy.
These are all facts that most retailers has heard over and over.
Yet, if we break down the lingerie and bra returns and refunds policies, we find that many stores are losing way too many customers along the way.
Selling products online is a different animal than selling in-store.
In the store you have a plethora of cues and clues to draw conclusions from.
You can sense your customer. You know how things go during a bra fitting.
In your store the product doesn’t sell itself.
The sale is a blend of the store atmosphere, the energy of the staff, the expertise, and the product.
Online we are limited in how much we can influence or guide the customer.
The amount we engage with the customer when they shop online drops significantly.
Two things take over the online experience in a very “in your face” way for the consumer: the product and the price.
In our experience 50% of customers don’t even look at the price or even ask. They try on bras. They have a good time. They find a few that fit. And then pay.
Not online. The price becomes much more prominent. That prominence makes it an influential piece of the equation because it is right there.
When that happens, the customers’ focus on the product is diluted. Might it fit? Sure. But look at the cost!
Suddenly, the price, which to a degree is an afterthought during an in-store experience (how many women have come into your bra store for 1 bra and left with 3, just because they fit?) is playing a central role.
When the price takes a starring role in your sales cycle, you can be sure it’s cousin is close behind (the return policy). If price is driving the sale, then the return policy plays a central role. It’s like both of those elements live in the same part of the brain.
The other main player is the product.
In the store you can rely on the design of the changeroom, the atmosphere, your attire and attitude. The customer is there for the bras, but also for the experience. All that is taken away.
Store owners try to enhance the online experience with beautiful design and ease of use.
But no one can make up the ground we lose from being in person. We can share some things, but we can’t put it all together. A bit like a disassembled car. It’s all there. But you can’t drive it.
There is no substitute for the experience of being somewhere. Smelling. Touching. Feeling. Listening. Taking it all in.
The underlying unpredictableness of any moment in the world gives you a subtle rush of adrenaline. It heightens you and how you engage with your surroundings. Something the customer cannot replicate shopping on their couch. Or office. Or bed.
So, the customer is left with product and price as their decision verticals.
There is a risk to shopping like that.
It actually seems quite foolish to buy a bra online!
If you don’t have the fitting knowledge from a fitter, the ability to touch and feel the product, and you can’t test it on, if you are giving all that up, why are you buying it like that?
This is the struggle between the retailer and the customer. And we are all both retailers and customers at different times. We buy. And we sell. This is the rub!
But we are not putting the online shopping genie back in the bottle.
People want to shop online. For bras. For glasses. For kitchenware. You can buy anything online.
The truth is, if we don’t cater to people shopping online, someone else will. Those customers will slip through our fingers and then the only thing we’ll be left doing is twiddling our thumbs.
If the shopping experience is so different, the return policy should reflect that.
As a retailer we should aim to see online sales as a shared experience between the customer and the retailer. Two dancers, one needing the other.
If the customer is willing to take a risk and order something online, the best thing we can do is try to mitigate their risk of an unpleasant outcome.
Taking returns for your online lingerie will boost your sales! Plus, there are ways to mitigate your risk level.
Taking returns does not need a terrifying endeavor at your store.
The world of retail has gotten a lot tougher in the last ten years.
The world of bra retail even more!
Bra stores have always been a resilient segment of the brick-and-mortar retail landscape.
Although the investment needed to break into the market is high, selling bras offers a level of certainty and longevity that almost all other retail vectors envy.
It is because of that resilience that competition has shot up!
Between the introduction of online sales, the muscling into the lingerie market by large bully players, brands selling direct to consumers, and the growth of new bra stores, every customer, every sale counts.
When we factor in the rising cost of rent and staffing…well, you know! Bra stores may be resilient but it’s no walk in the park.
Plus stores carry a huge amount of stock to be able to serve their customers.
Those reasons are why it is so important to maximize all your sales channels.
If you already have an online store, why not maximize its potential?
It is well known that customers want two main things when they shop online: easy returns and free shipping.
I won’t get into free shipping here, but suffice to say that I am not a fan.
I’ll write another article on the misleading nature of free shipping and how the culture of convenience has skewed the real costs associated with everything; from the shipment of goods, to the real cost of food, to the car riding services everyone uses.
But I digress….
Free shipping is different from accepting returns.
Free shipping costs you money with each and every sale.
Free shipping emboldens the customer to what can be a point of being unreasonable.
What we argue for is a balanced relationship with our customer.
We want to sell them a product. And we want them to be happy.
We want their complaints to be reasonable.
We want their returns to be reasonable.
We want to make sales.
Even in this imperfect model that is online shopping.
But we don’t want frustrated customers or customers wearing the wrong bra size!
It is important to be empathetic with the customer experience when they shop online.
Even though we might want them all to come into the store, the truth is, many people can’t. Think of those that are far away or may suffer from mobility issues.
The nature of the bra industry means that some core bras are found in most stores in some sizes (link to bra frag), and then there are oodles of bras in random sizes in random stores.
Often, if your site is optimized and your pages are ranking, you often have bras that no one else has. Or maybe one or two other bra stores have. A customer searching for that bra might be 200 kilometres away.
Your store pops up in their search.
It is a bit much to expect the customer to drive 200 kms to try a bra on in your lingerie store.
But if it is one of those bras that only you have, chances are, you are ready to sell it!
With a strong return policy and a fair shipping policy, you mitigate the risk to that bra while it travels to the customer’s home to be tried on.
With the customer paying shipping costs, it is reasonable to allow the bra to leave the store for a few days to be tried on. If it doesn’t work, it comes back home.
Plus there are ways to mitigate the risk.
A well thought out return policy removes a lot of the sting you might feel about taking returns on bras.
It’s easy for all those blog writers out there to hark on the points of why you MUST take returns without any real experience on how returns affect us as retailers.
Someone who never had any of their own skin in the game does not make a compelling argument for us bra retailers.
I’ve been there. I know the pain. Take it from me, there is a way…
Here is a list you can follow to reduce the risks associated with returns, make customers comfortable with your store, and increase conversions.
Make your return policy concise and clear.
Avoid giving it too many moving parts.
Make your return policy short and sweet.
Make sure this policy is very clear and available in different parts of your site.
It can be a banner at the top of the site.
Ideally, in your cart or checkout page you have a box the customer needs to check to confirm they read and agree with the terms of return.
This clarity is your #1 line of defense for avoiding ridiculous claims from customers.
Whatever return policy you decide to write, make sure it is clear, easy to understand, and available across your site.
Keep your return window small.
Don’t let your return window stretch out for 30 days or 45 days.
After all, when the customer receives the item, we want them to try it on and if it doesn’t fit, send it back.
They should know pretty quickly if it works for them or not. There is no need for extensive return windows.
You can make it 7 days after confirmation of arrival of shipment.
With technology today you’ll know exactly what day the product was delivered to their home.
Setting up a tight timeframe is also your best bet to get the product back in its original form.
The less time the customer has with the product, the less chances are the cat sleeps on it, spaghetti sauce spills on it, it picks up the smell of deodorant, etc.
Staying out of the returns process is one of the best things you can do.
This will not always be possible especially when the customer is looking for an exchange and you will probably have to get involved to help them choose their next item.
Still, if it is a straight return, automate it.
There are plenty of apps and tools out there that plug into your website that make the return process automatic.
Here are some tools for your website:
Smart Refunder – if you run a Woo Commerce site.
Return Magic – has an API so your developer can plug it into any website.
Bold Returns – works on Shopify.
Aftership – works on Shopify and other websites.
The customer puts in their email, or order number, chooses the reason for the return, and then the system can automatically generate a return label for them.
Unless you are paying for return shipping make sure that you clearly state that the cost of the return label will be deducted from the refund.
We have seen too many simple returns go haywire when a discussion on a phone kicks off.
The customer begins asking questions. Next thing you know, the customer suspects there might be a flaw in the product, or, they get worked up, something is always your fault. When they have to pay, and things didn’t go perfect, it’s always your fault!
Next thing you know they start to demand free shipping to return the item, they start to threaten with negative reviews, etc etc. All because of the conversation. A little extra word somewhere knocked that train off its tracks. No no.
Reduce the ability of things being misinterpreted or going wrong.
Let the computers do the work.
This one is very underrated, but this one not only reduces returns, it also increases sales!
Take a look at your online orders.
Is this one of your regular customers who is in your database?
If so, check their size against the bras they purchased.
Is there something there you see that is very unlikely to work? Send them an email.
Is there an order from a customer you don’t know but that has multiple bras that you know won’t fit?
Reach out and ask them if they are sure that’s what they want.
They might be buying a few bras to test them on and return the ones that don’t work. This phenomena is called Bracketing.
It is when customers purchase multiple products to try on at home.
But this is also a great chance to communicate and make some recommendations.
This approach is one of the best approaches to make more sales!
More often than not when engaging these customers pre-shipment you discover the pain point in the transaction and can offer suggestions.
Do they want matching panties with that? They love that color? Bring another bra in that color to your attention?
Have bras in-store that are not online? Pitch them and make that sale.
Reaching out to clarify discrepancies is a great customer service move, increases customer retention, and gives you an opportunity to increase your order size.
Most stores bristle at the idea of giving the customer their money back. We get it.
That said, if your policy was clear, and if the customer followed the instructions, chances are the bra returns in perfect condition.
If the customer made an honest effort to make a purchase.
If they followed your instructions to a tee.
If the item is back in your hand and it is nothing worse for the wear.
Give the customer their money back.
This ends up being a zero cost customer retention strategy. Remember, customers keep shopping with retailers who make returns easy!
It might take a couple of tries, but once you hit the sweet spot with them, you’ll have a repeat customer. It’s like the old car sales adage: you don’t sell a car, you sell 3 cars over 10 years.
It’s never one sale. It’s five sales over 24 months.
You probably know who your immediate competitors are.
Google will show people (in your geographic area who are searching for bras) a list of stores with the ones closest to the customer near the top.
You can use the Bra Directory and put in your store’s postal code and search for stores within 30km – 50km from your store (depending on where you are, if you are in a big city probably close the radius to 20km) and make sure you are aware of all your competitors near you.
Next, check out all their return policies.
Can you make a return policy that is at least as good, if not better than your local competitors?
If so, do it!
You will be able to use your return policy to distinguish yourself from your local competition and this will give you excellent return on your local organic SEO conversions.
Local customers will compare return policies from one store to the next.
Did you create a great return experience?
Then make it a centrepiece of your pitch!
Make sure that customers know about your policy and use it to drive engagement.