Spandex killed the bracketing star

The unexpected (and profit-driving) side effect of elastic waistbands on return rates

While we wait for the Song of the Summer to be crowned—here’s one semi-serious suggestion—US consumers have started buying clothes other than sweatpants again. Retail Dive calculates, based on reporting from the US Commerce Department, that clothing & accessories sales have increased an eye-watering 667% year-over-year, a number which does not even include the weeks leading up to Memorial Day. 

Spandex may be woven into everything we wear now—at home, on the go, and even at work. So, we wanted to know what this meant for the online shopping trend that had fashion retailers chewing off their fingernails before the pandemic: bracketing (the practice of buying multiple sizes with the intent of returning what doesn’t fit).

  • Some highlights of our findings on bracketing:
    • 41% of all consumers (ages 18+) confess to bracketing
      • This is a 10pp decrease from our 2019 survey
      • That’s driven by a 9pp decrease among those who say they “always” or “frequently” bracket
      • Unsurprisingly, those with higher incomes (>$100k/year) have changed their behaviors least, reporting only a 4pp drop in bracketing since 2019
    • Compared to last year—when few were buying clothes without an elastic waistband—only 8% of consumers say they bracket more often, and greater than 1 in 4 (28%) say they now bracket less than last year, totaling a net decrease of 20%
      • Surprisingly, 16% of millennials report bracketing more now versus last year.
      • Meanwhile, nearly 40% of Gen Z—who are currently the most affected by lower incomes and higher unemployment—report bracketing less than last year
  • This nets out as a net positive for fashion brands—especially those who have jumped on the stretchwear trend—in that return rates should be lower, resulting in a net positive impact on profits
  • We plan to ask this question again when we’ve progressed further out of the pandemic to gauge whether this dip was more of a blip or a flip in consumer behavior. Neither outcome would be…a stretch.
bracketing more, the same or less

BOXpoll™ by Pitney Bowes, a weekly consumer survey on current events, culture,and ecommerce logistics. Conducted by Pitney Bowes with Morning Consult //2094 US consumers surveyed May 2021.© Copyright Pitney Bowes Inc.

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