If you sell apparel online, you’re already well aware that the customer’s closet isn’t always an item’s final destination.

Online returns in general have a much higher rate of return than brick-and-mortar purchases, but they’re especially high for apparel, with over 12% of purchases getting returned. 

It can be difficult for a customer to understand whether they really like a clothing item until they have a chance to try it on. Customers often engage in “bracketing,” in which they’ll order a few variations on a particular item, like a blouse or a pair of jeans – with the end goal of only keeping one. 

Or, even if they have the best intentions, they may discover that an item that looked great online doesn’t work nearly as well with their body type, or the colors looked brighter in the photos than they did in person.

In fact, in some markets, up to half of all apparel products are returned, and only half of those are able to be resold – taking a big bite out of your profit margins. 

You’ll probably need to accept that returns are par for the course when it comes to your business – but by taking steps to ensure a better fit up front, you’ll be able to give customers more confidence in their purchases, and reduce the number of items that come back to your warehouse.

Here are some ideas for doing that.

Build a “real fit” guide

A size 8 in one brand may be a size 12 in another. Thanks to vanity sizing, customers can’t rely on the numbers alone to gauge what’s going to fit them well. And they don’t always have a tape measure handy to check their measurements on the spot before making a purchase.

While it’s definitely worthwhile to build in a sizing chart for every brand you carry to ensure that customers who have their measurements on hand can find a good match, it’s also a great idea to deliver customized sizing suggestions for your customers.

If a customer has purchased from your brand before and kept an item, you have some data on what works for them, and can use that to recommend the right size for other brands or product types.

If they’re a new customer or are purchasing a certain product type for the first time, consider offering a quick fitting questionnaire that asks what size they typically wear in popular brands like The Gap, Ann Taylor, Calvin Klein, or Lululemon. You can use software to automatically translate their answers into sizing recommendations for the products you carry, ensuring a great fit.

Use AR technology to help the customer see what the product looks like on them

Your customers can’t visit an actual dressing room online – so provide them with a virtual dressing room option to help them assess how a piece might look on them.

Leading brands like Nike, Walmart, and Amazon are investing in virtual fit technology that helps shoppers see how products would look on their bodies.

For instance, Nike’s Virtual View gives shoppers the opportunity to pick any item in a clothing product line to see how it would look on an avatar with their clothing size, so they can be better informed about how it fits. 

AR technology can be an expensive investment, but it’s likely to pay off: Customers using AR technology convert at a rate two to three times higher than those that don’t, and they’re 40% less likely to return their purchases. 

Prioritize user-generated content

You may not have the resources to take photos of your product on dozens of different models – but guess what? That’s what your customers are for.

Every customer who buys a product can help inform other shoppers with their feedback, whether it’s positive or negative. Encourage each customer to leave a review of the product they purchased, including data about their size and measurements, and whether the product was too big, too small, or just right.

You can use this data to inform your sizing recommendations.

It can also be helpful to encourage customers to take a photo or a video of themselves wearing the item, so that other customers can visualize themselves in the outfit and get suggestions on the best ways to style it.

Using your social media platforms can also be a great way to generate “real world” content for your brand: Encourage customers to tag photos or videos of themselves wearing your clothing, and share it on your own social feeds and website.

You’ll be able to encourage more UGC content by sponsoring a contest or giveaway – and this approach will even help you expose your brand to new audiences who may not yet be aware of your products.

Turn returns into exchanges

You’re not likely to curb returns altogether – but with the right approach to returns management, you can convert many of them into exchanges, providing you with another chance to satisfy your customer.

Using Loop’s custom technology, you can build a seamless process to help customers exchange a product not just for a variation of the same product (i.e., different size or color), but for any item in your store.

This approach often leads to upsells, helping you retain even more revenue from the transaction than you would if the customer had kept the original item. 

By encouraging and incentivizing exchanges, you’ll be able to reduce churn and maintain long-term customer loyalty that goes beyond the individual transaction.

With a simple and painless returns process, you’ll be able to instill confidence in your customers that they’ll end up with a product they love – even if it’s not the first time around.

Ready to optimize return costs and retain more revenue? Check out a demo of Loop.