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  • Writer's pictureSophia Satapathy

The Upsides and Downsides of Bracketing for Online Shoppers

Bracketing for Online Shoppers

Have you ever found yourself browsing online for the perfect outfit, only to add multiple sizes or colors to your cart? You're not alone. An increasing number of shoppers are embracing "bracketing" to make online shopping more convenient.

Bracketing refers to purchasing various versions of the same item to try at home before deciding what to keep. This allows shoppers to evaluate fit and style effortlessly. However, bracketing has pros and cons for both consumers and retailers that are worth exploring.

In this article, we will define bracketing and explore its rise in popularity among online shoppers. Additionally, we will discuss some of the benefits and drawbacks of this approach from the customers' perspective. While convenient for consumers in many ways, bracketing can place logistical burdens on e-commerce businesses if taken to an extreme.

With the growth of online shopping, more people are leveraging bracketing as a tool for virtual try-ons. In the following sections, we will offer a balanced look at how this trend impacts all parties involved. We aim to provide helpful context as consumers and retailers navigate the modern online marketplace.

What is Bracketing? 

Bracketing is when online shoppers buy multiple sizes or styles of the same item. This lets them try different options at home before returning the ones that don't fit, or they don't like.

Many shoppers bracket clothes like shirts, pants, dresses, and shoes. These can be hard to buy online without trying on. Shoppers will order different sizes of the same shirt so they are sure to get one that fits right.

Some other items people bracket are electronics. Things like phones, tablets, and headphones come in different colors, storage amounts, or other options. By bracketing, customers can pick the exact version they prefer without making extra trips to the store.

Bracketing gives online shoppers more control over their purchases. It saves time because they don't have to make multiple orders. It reduces risks because they are sure to find an item they love before it sells out. While it makes more returns for retailers, most shoppers still end up keeping multiple items they bracketed, so bracketing can help stores sell more, too.

Benefits of Bracketing for Online Shoppers 

Bracketing allows shoppers to try multiple sizes, colors, or styles of a product from the comfort of their homes without paying for shipping costs on returns. This can be very convenient for shoppers and help create a virtual "try before you buy" experience online. Some of the key benefits of bracketing for shoppers include:

Convenience of trying multiple options

Trying only on or seeing the actual colors in person is impossible when shopping online. Bracketing lets shoppers order several product variants to select the best fit, size, or color without making multiple trips to a physical store. This saves time and effort for the consumer.

Avoiding shipping costs for returns

Since most retailers offer free returns on online orders, bracketing allows shoppers to avoid paying for return shipping if they don't like the items they receive. They can return the unwanted products to the retailer without additional charges, reducing the financial risk involved in online shopping.

Creating a virtual fitting room

By purchasing multiple sizes or styles, shoppers can recreate the experience of visiting a fitting room online. They can try items at home, see how each variant looks, and pick their favorites. This virtual fitting room lets consumers evaluate fit and finish before committing to a purchase, similar to shopping in-store.

So, bracketing provides online shoppers with convenience and flexibility in choosing products. It helps overcome some limitations of online shopping by enabling consumers to try multiple options from home at no added cost virtually. However, large-scale bracketing can create logistical challenges for retailers as well.

Drawbacks of Bracketing 

There are some potential downsides to consider with bracketing:

  • Higher shipping costs: When shoppers order multiple versions of the same item, more packages need to be shipped and returned. All those extra shipping transactions add up to costs for both the retailer and the customer.

  • Bad for the environment: All that excess packaging and transportation required for returns is bad for the planet. Each return means more trash, more fuel used, and higher carbon emissions.

  • Items may sell out: When unwanted items are returned, the desired item could be out of stock or unavailable. This means shoppers may need help getting what they want.

  • It takes more time: Compared to a single purchase, it's more time-consuming to order multiple versions of an item, try them all, and return the unwanted ones.

  • May not fit return windows: Some retailers have limited return windows, so bracketing multiple items risks needing more time to return some before the deadline.

  • Less money available: Ordering extra items upfront ties up more funds in purchases before returns are processed. This reduces what's available in budgets.

So, while convenient, bracketing has drawbacks around costs, sustainability, risk of items selling out, time efficiency, and budgeting that are important to consider.

Alternatives to Bracketing 

Bracketing can create waste and extra costs for retailers. Here are some better options for shoppers:

  • Thoroughly reading size charts - Many online stores provide detailed measurements for each size. Understanding sizing can help you pick the right size on the first purchase.

  • Checking retailer policies on exchanges - Some retailers allow item exchanges if the wrong size is selected. This avoids returns and lets customers get the right item with one purchase.

  • Purchasing in-store or curbside pickup - Shoppers can try items on in-store. Stores may also offer curbside pickup for online orders, making returns unnecessary.

  • Virtual or augmented reality try-ons - Some retailers offer virtual or AR try-tons of clothing and accessories directly based on a shopper's image. This gives a better sense of fit and look than photos alone.

  • Asking for fit or style advice - Shoppers can message retailers on sizing advice specific to their body type. Sales staff may pick the most likely fit from descriptions.

  • Purchasing final sale items - Items labeled final sale cannot be returned. This encourages careful consideration of measurements before buying non-returnable styles.

Being informed, using retailer services, and planning purchases can help shoppers avoid bracketing. It benefits both customers and retailers by reducing waste from unnecessary returns.

Tips for More Sustainable Bracketing 

Bracketing is a common shopping practice, but it can create a lot of waste if not done sustainably. Here are some tips for bracketing in a more environmentally friendly way:

  • Choose fewer items. Instead of bracketing several sizes or colors, try bracketing just one or two options of the same item. This reduces excess packaging and returns.

  • Bundle similar returns. Pack multiple items together in one box instead of individual packages if you're returning multiple items. This lowers shipping emissions.

  • Donate unwanted items. Before returning something, consider donating it to a local charity. Many non-profits will happily take gently used clothing, toys, or electronics.

  • Opt for eco-friendly shipping. Look for low-carbon shipping like ground transport instead of air. You can also drop returns at physical locations to avoid packaging.

  • Be mindful of hygiene items. Cosmetics and other personal items often can't be resold, so only bracket essentials in these categories.

  • Reuse packaging materials. Repurpose boxes, envelopes, and packing peanuts for future returns instead of throwing them out.

With some planning, bracketing can still be a convenient shopping method while creating less waste. Even small changes like these tips can help reduce its environmental impact.


Bracketing has some benefits for shoppers—it allows them to find the perfect fit or style from one order, avoiding multiple transactions and shipping costs. However, it creates waste as many returns are thrown out. It also hurts retailers, who face high return processing fees. While free returns encourage bracketing, it has negative environmental impacts as waste increases. Bracketing is convenient for shoppers but could be better for businesses and the planet. Reducing unnecessary purchases and returns can help limit these downsides.


What are some tips for choosing items to bracket wisely?

Suggest focusing on items that are difficult to judge size for, like shoes, jeans, or bathing suits. Avoid bracketing low-cost consumable items.

Does bracketing impact the retailer's supply chain or costs?

While bracketing is convenient for shoppers, it increases costs for retailers who process higher return volumes. This may impact product pricing or availability over time.

How do exchange policies differ from returns?

Exchanges allow swapping for a different size or color without restocking fees. Returns require more processing to refund or resell the item. Check each retailer's specific exchange windows and policies.

What if I change my mind after the return window?

Retailers may have limited exceptions, but generally, items can only be returned or exchanged within the posted return period, usually 30 days. Plan carefully before that window closes.

Are there bracketing alternatives besides buying in-store?

Consider virtual fitting tools, wish lists to compare later, or community review/sizing resources to aid online shopping confidence without returns.

How can bracketing impact my online shopping habits?

Be mindful that it could enable impulse purchases or undermine the sustainability of one's wardrobe over time. Periodic closet cleanouts and editing shopping lists can keep bracketing balanced.

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