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What the heck is bracketing?

what is bracketing in eCommerce

If you’ve been in the retail game for some time now, then you’ve likely heard of bracketing—or have at least seen it in action.

A recent Navar study found that 58% of consumers resort to bracketing when shopping online, and in recent years, that trend has skyrocketed.

But what exactly is bracketing, and how can you prevent it?

Learn how retail bracketing affects the eCommerce industry (see our guide on what is eCommerce) and what you can do to protect your eCommerce business.

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What is bracketing in eCommerce?

Bracketing (aka “buy-and-try”) is when customers purchase multiple variations of your product with the intention of returning the ones that they don’t like. Bracketing is especially prevalent in the apparel and home goods types of businesses, where style and size can often feel like a gamble.

From the consumer’s perspective, bracketing may seem harmless. After all, if a retailer offers free returns and you’re not sure what size or color suits you best, why not buy both options and try them on at home?

But for retailers, it can wreak havoc. Each returned item costs retailers around $10 to $20, reported The Wall Street Journal, and that doesn’t even include the cost of shipping. Between managing a higher level of returns and losing money to unrecoverable products or packaging, your business stands to lose a lot of money if bracketing runs rampant.

The hidden causes of bracketing

There are a number of reasons why bracketing happens—the number one reason being that customers aren’t able to see, touch, and try on the products that they find online. But digging a bit deeper, here are a few less-obvious reasons contributing to the popularity of this practice.

  • Flexible return policies - While easy and free returns are the norm, a flexible return policy reduces the perceived risk of purchasing multiple items at once.

  • Unclear product descriptions - Unsurprisingly, product pages with vague size, fit, and material descriptions cause a sense of doubt, influencing customers to purchase products to try at home.

  • Unclear product photos - “Editorial-y” product photos in which models are squatting, jumping, or posing in ways that make it hard to tell how items actually fit or look when used.

  • Confusing color or pattern names - Patterns and colors with unclear names like “daybreak” can lead customers to question which variation is actually right for them.

  • Inconsistent product information - If you sell or promote your items on multiple channels, but accidentally input different size, fit, or material descriptions across channels, shoppers may (understandably) be confused about which option to purchase.

9 ways to combat bracketing

While some factors are outside of your control, there are several steps that you can take to mitigate the chances of bracketing.

01. Provide better product details

Write clear and detailed product descriptions. Don’t skimp out on details, such as fabric texture, care instructions, weight, and dimensions.

House of Sunny, for example, provides multiple measurements on its products pages. The model’s clothing size is listed below the product image. There’s also a sizing chart showing every measurement imaginable, including inseam, waist, hip, front rise, back rise, and more.

sizing chart for House of Sunny pants

Other things to consider: rather than just listing out materials, describe their touch, appearance, and flexibility. When selling footwear, include height, width, length, and even weight within your description. To help consumers make the right decision, provide a quick quiz or compare your sizing with that of other popular brands.

02. Enhance your product visuals

It goes without saying that your product photos should be clear, well-lit, and taken from multiple angles. But beyond this, ensure that they’re not distorted or discolored in the editing process. Take photos of apparel on various models to show how they look on multiple body types, and, if possible, consider taking videos or 360-degree photos so that items are even easier to visualize.

03. Request and highlight product reviews

Your customers are probably the best sources of feedback regarding the actual look and feel of your products. Ask them to review your product via a post-purchase email or survey. Ask specifically about the fit, color, size, and quality of your product—then use their responses to inform your descriptions.

In addition to this, highlight reviews directly on your site as well as user-generated photos and videos to further guide shoppers towards the right products.

Did you know: Wix merchants can integrate apps like Kudobuzz Reviews onto their online stores to easily collect high-quality reviews and ratings.

04. Optimize the post-return flow

In a similar vein, make sure to establish a system for collecting feedback after a customer submits a return. Ask them for specific feedback, e.g., rather than simply asking, “Why did you request a return?” give specific options for them to choose from (poor fit, wrong item, didn’t match description, etc.).

Use the touchpoint as an opportunity to understand why some buyers bracketed their purchases. Plus, use the feedback to enhance your product page and help future shoppers avoid the same purchase dilemma.

05. Use clear names for colors, patterns, scents, etc.

Be creative with your names, but avoid names that are too difficult to understand. You’ll generally want to make sure that some part of the name is easily identifiable. For instance, rather than naming a color “daybreak,” call it “daybreak orange.” Don’t leave these details open for interpretation even if you have photos to reinforce them.

06. Provide real-time support

When it comes to learning how to sell online, consider adding live chat to your site in order to provide real-time shopping assistance, especially for products that are pricier and/or typically require lots of research.

Wix merchants can leverage Wix Chat to easily enable and manage live chat on their sites. This can be paired with other apps from the Wix App Market that can help consumers as they shop, such as automatic size recommenders.

07. Allow virtual try-ons

Augmented reality (AR) is one of the eCommerce technology trends shaking up the industry. While the technology isn’t perfect, it has already allowed brands like Warby Parker and IKEA somewhat bridge the gap between in-store and virtual shopping experiences. By allowing shoppers to virtually place glasses on their face and couches in their living rooms, respectively, both brands have likely mitigated many cases of bracketing and/or buyer’s remorse.

Instagram and TikTok filters could be your foray into AR, allowing people to place your product in a real-life setting.

08. Allow for easy exchanges

Create an exchange system that allows consumers to swap purchased items for different colors or sizes. Buyers may be less likely to bracket purchases if exchanges are straightforward and painless. If your business has a brick-and-mortar location, offer the convenience of in-store exchanges for in-store purchases.

09. Analyze transaction data

Analyze sales and return data to see what items your consumers bracket most often. Look for clues as to what’s causing this to happen. Is it the item type? The audience you’re targeting? Is your product page missing details that other less-returned items have?

If, after analyzing the data, it's still unclear why consumers are bracketing a particular item, create a survey and ask your customers directly. Generate more data to enable you to improve your products and help your buyers better understand what they're purchasing.

Pull the plug on bracketing

In summary, bracketing is convenient for your consumers but costly for your business. By improving your product descriptions, providing real-time support, and taking other proactive measures, you could potentially reduce bracketing while improving the overall customer experience.

Geraldine Feehily

Allison Lee

Editor, Wix eCommerce

Allison is the editor for the Wix eCommerce blog, with several years of experience reporting on eCommerce news, strategies, and founder stories.

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