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Net-a-Porter tackles ‘wardrobing’ using customer data

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Fashion destinations Net-a-Porter and Mr Porter have launched a new personal assistant for certain customers, showing how accurate data can help with customer retention.

The new invitation-only service, called Style Trial, will allow the brand’s most loyal customers to try clothes on at home.

Those termed Extremely Important People (EIPs) by the brand can order up to 30 pieces of clothing to try them for a seven-day trial period. The brand automatically takes payment for items that the customer wishes to keep.

Alison Loehnis, president at Net-a-Porter and Mr Porter, said: “We are incredibly proud to offer a truly elevated personal shopping service to our EIPs.

“We are always looking to further enhance customer experience at Net-a-Porter and Mr Porter, and these new bespoke offerings are the next innovative step in better serving our customers within the comfort of their homes.”

A few stats back up the approach. From a customer satisfaction perspective, it is a good way of rewarding the chain’s most valuable customers and increasing their loyalty. After all, it is often said that it costs five times as much to acquire new customers as to keep an existing one.

But perhaps more important is the solution it could provide for the dilemma that many retailers face around returns.

A recent survey of 2000 online shoppers and 200 online clothing retailers by returns company ReBOUND found that 13% of consumers have purchased clothing with the intention of wearing it once and then returning it for a refund, known as wardrobing.

The tendency was particularly high amongst 25 to 34-year-olds, 21% of whom admitted to doing this. By contrast, the figure was only 6% for those over 45 years old.

Amazon demonstrated one potential response to this impasse – banning frequent returners.

But commenting on the survey, ReBOUND’s data innovation director Vicky Brock suggested that this response was “tempting” but ultimately damaging.

“An effective returns strategy requires a nuanced, data-driven approach, as this will highlight that even the majority of customers who ‘wardrobe’ still keep more than they return. By banning repeat returners, retailers risk alienating shoppers who spend far more than they claim in refunds.”

Restricting the benefit to EIPs could ensure that valuable customers are retained. Another approach was shown by German online retailer Zalando has recently attempted to tackle its staggering large returns rate, apparently as high as 50%, by introducing a large label that makes items impractical to wear.

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