A picture of a wardrobe representing that wardrobing is a problem for retailers.

Wardrobing Turns Retailers Into Rental Services

Wardrobing—the practice of buying a product to use once or twice before returning it—is more common than you think.

What’s more?—Wardrobing was a big part of the more than $23 billion dollars worth of fraudulent online returns processed in 2021.  

Now, to be clear, wardrobing is not bracketing. These two types of serial return practices share common characteristics and are therefore easily mistaken for one another. However, it’s critically important to distinguish them since bracketing is a 100% legitimate shopping activity while wardrobing is abusive. 

A breakdown of wardrobing versus bracketing

What are the common signs of wardrobing?

  • Consistently purchasing expensive items and then returning them.
  • Full order return where everything purchased gets returned, not just one ill-fitting item.
  • All items bought and purchased are consistently ordered in the same size across multiple purchases.
  • Products are consistently purchased around known holidays or events, and then returned immediately after (e.g., a new TV regularly purchased and then returned around the Super Bowl).

What are the common signs of bracketing?

  • Purchasing multiple sizes, colors, and styles of the same item.
  • Keeping at least some of the items from an order, albeit not all.
  • Changing order habits related to product size or fit, which is exploratory behavior demonstrated by legitimate customers. 

Wardrobing isn’t tied to apparel

While most people might think of wardrobing as a behavior that’s confined to the world of apparel, the truth is it spans multiple categories.

For example, nearly 19% of US consumers will purchase new luggage exclusively for an upcoming holiday, and then return that luggage for a refund once that holiday concludes. 

Similarly, 39% of US shoppers will purchase a household item like a blender for a specific purpose (e.g., a holiday meal). They’ll use that item once, clean it, repackage it, and take it back to the retailer for a refund.  

Breakdown of the items most commonly wardrobed

Who does the most wardrobing?

Despite popular belief, men are more likely to wardrobe than women. As a matter of fact 44% of men surveyed by Narvar admit to wardrobing more than once compared to just 32% of women—a double-digit difference. Moreover, men are 13% more likely to wardrobe across categories than their female counterparts. 

Average number of wardrobing categories fro men versus women

Why do people wardrobe?

For those who admit to wardrobing, they seem to view retailers as rental services.

Comments like “I was cold and needed a coat while I was out” and “I only needed it for a few hours—not permanently” indicate that wardrobers do not feel a responsibility to keep the items they purchase if they know those items won’t be used frequently. 

Additionally, it seems people who wardrobe don’t believe it causes the retailer much harm. They justify their behavior by assuming the items they’re returning “aren’t really used” and can therefore be sold again for full value. 

How do you stop wardrobing?

It’s hard to say.

Aside from steering wardrobers towards true rental options (e.g., Rent the Runway), it may be possible to deter their behavior by way of penalty—brands can ban habitual wardrobers from shopping in their stores.

Best deterrents to stop wardrobing in its tracks.

Ultimately, wardrobers know what they’re doing is wrong. Therefore, it seems the best course of action to prevent wardrobing is to be vigilant about identifying serial offenders and warning them about repercussions (e.g, eliminating instant refunds, blacklisting, etc.).

Looking to learn more?

If you’d like to learn more about wardrobing and other forms of returns rule breaking in retail, you can request the fully consumer study here.

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