Can the metaverse solve retail’s returns challenges?
We’ve seen a lot of press about the volume of returns that are pouring in from this holiday season. When you combine sustained high rates of online shopping with a really strong holiday season for many retailers, an overwhelming amount of returns seem inevitable.
While retailers can do things to try to cut their cost of returns — emphasizing return to store, offering incentives to turn a return into an exchange or an expanded sale, etc. — the best way to reduce returns is to prevent them from happening in the first place.
In fashion, the biggest reason consumers return items is because of fit. We’ve even invented terminology to describe the behavior: wardrobing (effectively the opposite of showrooming, where consumers order additional things to try on at home and send back what they don’t want), and bracketing (the practice of adding multiple sizes of the same item to your cart, a sure signal some of them are coming back).
Retailers and tech companies have made a run at fit tech for years, using any combination of computer vision, predictive analytics and proprietary algorithms that define everything from fabric fall and flow to how to translate cut patterns into 3D objects that can be sized against a body.
The challenge for consumers has always been the on-ramp. You either have to answer a 500-question survey about what brands you like, what sizes you wear in those brands and various body measurements or shape assessments, or (somehow worse) you have to climb into a box and get a total body scan à la airport scanners.
But augmented reality breakthroughs are starting to make it easier for consumers to get over the body scanning hump. Companies like Eclo (focused on shoes) can take you on a guided tour of your feet using only your phone’s camera. Other fit tech companies are experimenting with front view and side view full-body pictures (taken in tight fitting clothes like workout clothes) as the only requirements to be able to predict fit. Companies like Stitch Fix are introducing customers to the confidence that comes when they get recommendations, not only for products, but the size of product to buy.
As the metaverse becomes more pervasive, it’s an easy shift to move your full-body avatar, built from two simple phone pictures, into virtual reality to try on clothes in full 3D. It may seem far out there, but when retailers need to find a way to solve the huge problem (returns) that is created by consumers trying to solve a simple need (buying the right size with confidence), there is high likelihood that things will move fast. Certainly, the volume of returns is unsustainable as it is.
- UPS says it’s processing a record number of returns as 1 in 4 Americans plan to ship stuff back to sellers after the holidays – Business Insider
- UPS to handle record 60M returns during peak shipping season – Supply Chain Dive
- Returns volume and costs set to climb in pricey supply chain environment, survey says – Supply Chain Dive
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will the metaverse finally bring fit tech to the fore and solve retailers’ online returns problems? Do you think that newer AR-driven (simulated try-on) or AI-driven (analyzing past purchases) solutions are already showing promise?