Nearly half of U.S. shoppers are buying multiple sizes of a product online with the intention of returning some of them. Plus, 13% of U.S. consumers say they won’t shop the retailer again based on their last returns experience.

U.S. consumers are most likely to return an online order when the size, fit or color was wrong, according to a new study from post-purchase vendor Narvar Inc.

Narvar’s “The State of Online Returns in 2019:  A Global Study” surveyed 3,519 global consumers, ages 19-65, who have made an online purchase at least once in the last year—1,001 of those surveyed were U.S. consumers.

Of the 1,001 U.S. consumers, 32% shop online more than weekly, 73% have an Amazon Prime membership and 65% said their last return was to Amazon.

Consumers that return products to Amazon cite similar reasons why they return a product compared with returning products to other retailers, such as damaged items and the product didn’t appear as it did in the photo. However, sizing and fit was a much more common reason consumers said they returned online orders to non-Amazon retailers, at 46%, compared with returning products to Amazon, at 34%. Numbers don’t add up to 100% because of an “other” response.


One reason that fit isn’t as big of an issue at Amazon compared with other retailers is that shoppers purchase more apparel from other retailers than they do from Amazon.

“The presumption that consumers tend to shop for apparel everywhere besides Amazon may account for some of the difference in reasons for return but not all,” says Elain Szu, vice president of marketing at Narvar. “In fact, the data shows that Amazon saw a healthy percentage of apparel returns, and more footwear has been returned to Amazon than to other retailers. Perhaps the nuance is that Amazon is selling more basics where fit is less of a factor.”

This data coincides with an Internet Retailer and Bizrate Insights survey of 1,052 consumers in June 2019, which found 55% of consumers said size was the top reason why they returned on online purchase. (Respondents could pick more than one choice.)

For online apparel purchases, one way consumers work to ensure their garment fits is by “bracketing,” or buying multiple sizes of the same items, to try the item on at home, keep what fits and return the rest. 48% of U.S. consumers say they “bracket” their purchase, according to the Narvar study. This is an increase from 2017 and 2018, when roughly 40% of consumers each year said they bracketed at least some online purchases.

Of U.S consumers who don’t bracket, the reasons why include:

  • 33% — Financially, this is not something I do
  • 30% — It’s wasteful
  • 25% — Returns are a hassle
  • 8% — I viewed the options at a physical retail store before purchasing online

Where consumers make online returns

Some global consumers, at 36%, said they returned their last online order by taking it directly to a carrier to ship out.


In-store returns could drive incremental sales for retailers, the study finds, as 22% of U.S. shoppers bought other items they were not planning to purchase when they made an in-store return, and 24% said they bought other items they were planning to purchase. However, fewer consumers are going to the store to return online orders, as 10% said they did in 2019, compared with 17% in 2017, according to Narvar’s historical surveys.

In the U.S., 13% of consumers have dropped a package off at a designated location, such as a convenience store, pharmacy or Amazon locker. Of this group, 52% of them said they did it because it was convenient.

Retail chain Kohl’s Corp. accepts Amazon returns at its stores and has found that it is driving new shoppers to its stores. When Kohl’s (No. 2  in the Internet Retailer 2019 Top 1000) tested the service, it found that stores offering Amazon (No. 1) returns had a 9% increase in new customers while other locations that didn’t accept Amazon returns only generated a 1% increase in new customers, according to Earnest Research.


Similarly, more than a dozen retailers, including Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. (No. 43), Urban Outfitters Inc. (No. 46), Levi Strauss & Co. (No. 228) and Timbuk2 (No. 916), offer a package pickup and return service for consumers at their stores via a service called Narvar Concierge. These types of flexible return services are a good strategic move, says Sucharita Kodali, a Forrester Research Inc. analyst.

“Shoppers are demanding more convenient, flexible returns options, which means retailers must take a more strategic approach to how they enable facilitation of extended hours and locations, potentially through smart partnerships as we’ve seen recently with Kohl’s and Walgreens,” Kodali says.

The returns experience matters for the consumer’s perception of the brand and could impact future sales, the study found. 13% of U.S. consumers say they won’t shop the retailer again based on their last returns experience.

In addition, 62% of shoppers replace the item they returned, with 48% saying it’s from the same retailer, and 14% from a different retailer. The reasons why consumers replaced the item from a different retailer were:

  • 35% — Original retailer didn’t have the item in stock
  • 28% — Bad experience with the original retailer
  • 27% — Price issue with original retailer
  • 18% — Original retailer couldn’t get the item quickly enough
  • 15% — Original retailer didn’t make it easy to exchange

Overall, a majority of U.S. consumers find online returns easy, as 67% said their last return was easy or very easy, 26% said their last return was okay and 5% said difficult. For gifts, however, only 57% of U.S. consumers say returning a gift was easy or very easy.

Within Internet Retailer’s Top 1000, 161 online retailers use Narvar as a vendor. It is ranked as the No. 1 vendor of customer service software and support in Internet Retailer’s forthcoming Leading Vendors report.