Recently, I took a leap of faith and bought leggings online.
I was nervous because of the obvious: I couldn't see the leggings in person or try them on in-store, and I wasn't sure how the sizing worked. I didn't want to pay for shipping and item tax without even knowing if I was going to love my purchase.
Even though ecommerce is a booming industry, projected to earn $6 trillion in 2022, there's still some anxiety for consumers when buying products through a screen.
Fortunately, some brands have taken that into consideration, and have come up with a way to let consumers try products and services before purchasing them: Try before you buy. Let’s dive into what it is, how it works, and see examples of brands who use this strategy.
According to the 2021 Virtual Shopping Habits Report by Pertfitly, shoppers name the inability to try clothes on as their biggest concern when shopping online. The survey also found that the number one reason consumers return clothes is due to the inability to try them on.
For retailers, this creates a big problem. Not only do they have to worry about losing a customer, but the cost of acquiring another customer.
As a result, many brands are attempting to solve this issue by offering a trial period. In addition, the try-before-you-buy model, some brands are leveraging augmented reality to allow consumers to preview items on themselves or in their homes.
Now that you know what try before you buy is, let’s get into how it works.
How does "Try Before You Buy" work?
Every brand that uses try before you buy may have a slightly different process for this model. In most cases, here’s how it goes:
- The shopper picks out one or several products to try out.
- After receiving said product(s), the shopper will have a trial period determined by the retailer.
- Once the trial period expires, the consumer will have to decide between keeping or returning the item.
Trial periods vary greatly by brand. In addition, some brands will only allow consumers to try one product at a time while others will offer multiple products at a time.
To offer some inspiration, we've made a list of six brands that offer unique try-before-you-buy models and takeaways marketers can gain from them.
Try Before You Buy Brand Examples
Gemist is a sustainable, L.A.-based jewelry brand that offers a two-week trial period for their rings.
While some brands offer the try-before-you-buy option for all products, Gemist limits it to rings, as they’ve identified that as the product that creates the most hesitation from shoppers.
On their website, they say "We all love jewelry, but we get that fit can be tricky—especially with rings."
They allow shoppers to order up to three styles for two weeks with a $45 deposit. However, that amount is fully refunded once the products have been returned.
Gemist has found a great balance between meeting its customers' needs without overextending itself. They are offering a service that they know is of interest to their target audience.
However, this model doesn’t come without risks. As such, they’ve limited it to a product category – making it more manageable. As marketers, our goal is to delight our audience, but it’s important to find a strategy that will also work in the best interest of the company.
Amazon Prime offers a try-before-you-buy service through its clothing service, Prime Wardrobe.
Customers get to shop on the website and choose up to six items to enjoy for seven days, and they're only charged for what they decide to keep.
Members can enjoy a full-service shopping experience, with options sorted by style, occasion, or fit, shown above. For consumers that want even more help, Prime Wardrobe offers a personal shopper tool, in which stylists curate a list of items based on your style and budget for $4.99.
Prime Wardrobe is a member-exclusive program for Amazon Prime customers. It’s important to note that this program didn’t always exist. They fit one into their business model in 2017, more than 10 years after the launch of Amazon Prime to delight customers even further.
With this in mind, marketers should always be in touch with their audiences’ challenges, pain points, and interests, as they can spark ideas for future marketing campaigns and even products/services.
3. Warby Parker
As someone who wears glasses, I was especially interested to dive into how Warby Parker works. Here's the low-down: consumers try five pairs of frames at home for free, prescription-ready, pick and pay for the frame(s) they like, and send the rest back.
Let's expand on that.
Warby Parker's shopping experience can start a few different ways: consumers can either begin shopping for glasses right away or take a quiz for suggested pairs. All consumers need to do is upload their prescription to get started.
If you don't have an updated prescription, you can receive one from Warby Parker by booking a comprehensive eye exam at a physical store location. After about 20 minutes, you'll receive a prescription on the spot. This option shows the business's commitment to being a full-service eyewear company.
Warby Parker is a great example of how to market a product or service seamlessly. From the design of the website to the copy, shoppers can quickly find what they’re looking for and have the answers to their most pressing questions already there.
Casper is a mattress company that provides consumers with up to 100 nights of trying out its products before committing to a purchase. Additionally, the company offers free shipping, returns, and a 10-year limited warranty on all mattresses.
Casper offers six different mattress types and sizes, like 'The Wave,' pictured below.
On the website, consumers can also purchase other bedding items, such as sheets, glow lights, or pillows, to complete a shopper's bedroom experience. After a consumer picks their mattress, extras, and finishes their trial, they make the decision to keep or return the product.
If the consumer does not fall in love with their mattress, they can enjoy a full refund of the mattress and ship it back for free. If they do love their mattress, they get to keep it and enjoy night 101 with their new bed.
Casper's extended free trial is something unique to their service. The idea is that customers can take the time to get used to their new mattress and incorporate it into their nightly routine. After a couple of months with a new mattress, it would be a culture shock to go back to a different one.
Best of all, customers can feel peace of mind knowing that even if they make a huge purchase such as a mattress, they can receive a full refund and free return if they're not happy — but if they are, their job is done.
While most try-before-you-buy brands have a limited trial period, Casper offers a least 30 days to accommodate its consumers. The brand understands that it takes much longer to assess the value of a bed than it does clothing or a pair of glasses.
The keyword here is value – as marketers, it’s important we understand how our audience perceives the value of our brand and market to them accordingly.
5. Stitch Fix
Stitch Fix is an online clothing company that lets customers create a personalized shopping experience using collections made by real stylists. Customers can take a style quiz, set their budget, and pay a $20 styling fee.
Then, after paying the styling fee, customers receive pieces based on their quiz answers and budget, which they can try on at home before they commit to a purchase. They keep their favorites, send back the others with the company's free shipping policy, and that's it.
Stitch Fix's wardrobe options include a variety of brands. A customer, depending on their budget, can receive clothes from retailers including The North Face, Free People, Calvin Klein, Nike, Bonobos, Toms, and O'Neil.
The company's model is appealing to customers who don't want to leave their house to find an outfit they'd love. The style quiz, with questions about sizing, shopping behavior, and personal preference, is built to ensure that customers will receive choices they like.
The company also doesn't run on a subscription, so there's no set commitment. Customers also can enjoy free shipping and returns using Stitch Fix, and the $20 styling fee is a credit toward the items kept, so the customer will always have $20 off their purchase.
Stitch Fix's service gives power to the customer and delivers the most personalized shopping experience possible to the shopper, from the style quiz to the curated collections by real stylists. They take the worries out of commitments to online shopping, such as shipping prices, incorrect sizing, and receiving items you might not like.
Consumers want to feel in control of their shopping experiences. As such, marketers should consider this in every stage of the buyer’s journey, as they craft their strategies.
BlackCart was created to make try-before-you-buy shopping less of a painful guessing game for merchants. They offer a service for merchants that want to implement a try-before-you-buy option within their online store.
With BlackCart, merchants can enjoy integrations with Shopify, Magneto, and WooCommerce, customization options to fit their branding, and no fulfillment charges, all on a fully automated platform.
Merchants can use multiple settings to personalize the sale and shopping experience on their website. These settings include choices such as placing the trial period, exclusions, minimums, a deposit requirement, price, and refunds.
On the consumer side, shoppers can select items to try from the merchant's website and pay a fee set by the merchant (shown in the photo above). From there, the items are shipped to try on at home for the time period set by the merchant. After the customer sends unwanted items back, the kept items are charged automatically.
Online business owners will appreciate that BlackCart fits in as part of a merchant's online store. BlackCart is an example of B2B having a place with try-before-you-buy services as well. They make sure the merchant experience is seamless so they can focus on delighting the consumer.
How is your brand delighting its target audience and how are you communicating that to consumers? If that’s not clear, that’s a sign you may need to go back to the drawing board and re-assessing your marketing strategy.
Try-before-you-buy programs are so versatile, and marketers can definitely take note of the unique ways these programs delight customers and personalize the shopping experience.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published in March 2020 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.