Retailers dread the dreaded "R" word - returns. With return rates averaging 16.5% of of online sales, Ecommerce merchants face rising costs that eat into profits. But returns don't have to spell doom for your bottom line, even though every sector of commerce is impacted by returns.
Surprisingly, pricey products have an astronomical return rate of 50%, outpacing average return rates. Moreover, during festive seasons like the holidays, online return rates can skyrocket to up to 30% - underscoring the importance of monitoring return metrics. Carefully tracking return rates provides Ecommerce merchants invaluable understanding of customer preferences and happiness with their purchases.
In this guide, we will outline actionable strategies that you can implement to reduce returns and increase customer happiness. Read on and watch as returns stop draining your resources so you can focus on fueling growth. With Black Friday Cyber Monday right around the corner, you will want to stem the tide of returns and turn more shoppers into delighted customers as soon as humanly possible!
Why Do Customers Return Their Orders?
Ecommerce returns can stem from a multitude of reasons, often varying from one industry or product category to another. Here are a few of the most common reasons:
- Sizing Issues: Misalignment between the customer's expectations and the actual fit or size of the product is a frequent cause of returns. For instance, a customer ordering clothing online might find that the size they ordered doesn't fit as expected.
- Product Quality Concerns: Customers expect the products they purchase to meet certain quality standards. If the received item is flawed, damaged, or doesn't function as advertised, it's likely to be returned. An example could be receiving a smartphone with a malfunctioning camera.
- Incorrect Item Shipped: Human errors in order fulfillment can result in customers receiving the wrong product. This can lead to frustration and necessitate a return. An example might be receiving a different model of a laptop than the one ordered.
- Unmet Expectations: Sometimes, customers return products because they simply do not meet their expectations. This could involve a product looking different in person than in online images or having different features than anticipated.
- Delivery Delays: While not directly related to the product itself, delayed deliveries can lead to returns, especially if customers need the item by a specific date.
Understanding these common return reasons is crucial, but it's equally important to collect data that provides insights into the specific issues affecting your business. This data can come from various sources, including customer feedback, return request forms, and analytics tools. By systematically tracking and analyzing this information, you can identify trends and patterns that highlight areas needing improvement.
For example, an online shoe retailer might notice a recurring theme in customer returns related to sizing. By closely examining the data, they may discover that specific shoe brands or styles consistently have sizing issues.
Armed with this information, they can take targeted action, such as providing more detailed sizing information, offering virtual try-on features, or sourcing products with improved size consistency.
8 Straightforward Strategies to Reduce Ecommerce Returns
Optimize Product Pages
The product page is the make-or-break moment in converting shoppers to customers. If the page lacks important information or contains inaccuracies, the likelihood of a return increases.
Follow these best practices when optimizing product pages:
#1: Use Clear Photos
- Use high-quality, zoomable photos shot from multiple angles and in different color options if applicable.
- The images should showcase the product in a lifestyle setting - show the product in use rather than an isolated studio shot.
- This gives customers a realistic impression of the product's size, styling, and functionality.
#2: Create Accurate Product Titles
- Craft descriptive and scannable product titles that quickly communicate key details.
- Keep titles precise, but avoid keyword stuffing.
- Chubbies as an example has clear descriptions of its shorts: “Originals Stretch Twill Short. Our best-selling Originals short with an elastic waistband”
#3: Write Detailed Product Descriptions
- The product description requires the most optimization.
- Provide the product's exact dimensions, materials, care instructions, and other relevant specifications.
- For apparel, explain how the item fits - does it run small, oversized, or true to size? Chubbies notes that its shorts are “5-inch inseam that is ideal for squats and roundhouse kicks”
- Compare the fit to other brands that customers are likely familiar with or activities that it is good for. Chubbies notes that its shorts are “Best For: Weekend Wear, Tailgating, Happy Hour, Sunny Days”
- List the range of sizes the product will fit based on height, weight, body type, or age for children's products.
- Address commonly asked questions such as "How thick is this sweater?" or "Can this shoe be resoled?"
#4: Provide Sizing Charts and Guidelines
One of the biggest reasons for Ecommerce returns is customers receiving items that don't fit properly. Providing accurate sizing information is crucial to matching shoppers with the right product.
- For apparel Ecommerce stores, incorporate an interactive size chart that customers can reference. As an example, Peppers bra sizing shows the fit of Pepper vs. the regular bra, with an interactive slider that shows the fit of both side-by-side.
- Use an interactive quiz: In Pepper’s sizing quiz, customers can get a step by step guide to finding the exact size by taking several measurements. This is
And at the end of the sizing quiz, customers are prompted to opt in to receive their personalized information:
This helps accelerate list growth, improve conversion rate, and capture valuable customer data!
- List the actual garment measurements for each size - shoulder width, sleeve length, chest width, body length, etc.
- Break down women's, men's, junior's, and children's sizes separately.
- Allow customers to compare their body measurements or the measurements of an existing well-fitting garment.
- Give additional context around how your apparel sizes fit. Explain if they run small, oversized, or true to size.
- Recommend trying on similar brands or styles if they typically wear a medium. Providing the size someone is likely to fit gives them confidence in selecting their size.
For Other Products
- For products beyond apparel, share the exact product dimensions upfront.
- List the range of people or uses the product is designed to fit.
- A backpack could state it fits torsos 16"-20" wide and is suited for youth ages 8-13.
Tortuga uses an Octane AI quiz to narrow down the ideal size of of a bag, based on the height of the customer.
This helps narrow down the product selection to be perfect for the customer, as if they were shopping in the brick and mortar store!
This helps ensure proper fit, and gets the customer the reassurance that they have the right product for their needs and dimensions.
#5: Curate Customer Photos and Reviews
Customer-generated content like reviews and photos are invaluable on product pages. They provide unbiased impressions that help shoppers evaluate products and make informed purchasing decisions.
- Encourage customers to submit photos of them wearing or using your products. For apparel, these "in action" shots depict how items fit on real people.
Three Ships has video and Before/After customer photos on their product pages. These serve to show the results of the product, and provide valuable social proof of the efficacy of the product:
- Reviews from verified purchasers also provide authentic insight. Prompt customers to weigh in on sizing, comfort, ease of use, quality, and other practical aspects. They can confirm if an item runs true to size or if assembly is complicated. Ask directly how the product met or failed to meet their expectations.
- Address commonly asked questions and concerns that arise. For example, highlight a review saying the wool sweater only needed light lint removal directly out of the box. Or explain how the waterproof boots run snug at first but stretch after breaking in.
#6: Offer a Lenient Return Policy
While it may seem counterintuitive, having a lenient return policy can actually reduce return rates in Ecommerce. A generous policy gives customers peace of mind that drives conversion.
- Offer free, easy returns within a 30 to 60-day window from the purchase date. Provide a pre-paid shipping label so customers don't have to cover the costs. Make the process seamless by allowing returns to be initiated online or in-store.
Blenders has an easy-to-understand return policy, and also showcases it on the header nav to reduce friction and potential customer objections on returns:
- Issue refunds quickly, back to the original payment method. Only charge restocking fees for high fraud-risk categories like electronics. Have a fair, consistent policy outlined on your website.
- Train customer service reps to handle returns with empathy. Avoid treating customers like fraudsters, even if they make frequent returns. The goal is to retain their business long-term through excellent service.
- Proactively reach out to customers post-purchase to get ahead of potential returns. An email survey asking about their satisfaction can surface issues early. Providing an easy return experience turns them into brand advocates.
#7: Guide Customers To The Right Product With A Quiz
If you as a merchant are able to learn a bit about your customers, you can increase the likelihood that they are happy with their purchase and therefore reduce the chance of returning the product.
Quizzes allow customers to share details about their specific needs and preferences. This information powers personalized product recommendations that are tailored to each shopper.
A great example is a skin tone quiz--finding the right tone for foundation can be challenging in an online shopping experience. Il Makiage has 50 different tones of their foundation, so a quiz is a necessary component of their product selection process:
After completing a series of detailed questions and capturing a lead, Il Makiage makes a tailored recommendation based on all of the quiz questions, with an Add To Cart button that makes the shopping experience seamless:
The custom quiz takes the guesswork out of deciding which foundation is appropriate based on needs, goals, and challenges of the customers. This all combines to ideally reduce return rates.
#8: Leverage 3D Technology On Your Site
Online shopping lacks the ability to see and try products like in stores. This causes more returns. Augmented reality (AR) can recreate the in-store shopping experience, to improve a customer's understanding of the product.
Retailers can use AR to show products on customers virtually. For example, Warby Parker allows customers to try on glasses with their app, to see the style on their own face:
Augmented reality can have serious impact on conversion metrics, with stores seeing reduced return rates, increased conversion rates. Shopify covers the impact of Augmented Reality on Ecommerce in depth here.
Real World Example: How Buckle Me Baby Coats Reduced 95% of Returns and Exchanges
Buckle Me Baby Coats makes special coats for kids to wear safely in car seats. The founder, Dahlia Rizk, pitched them on Shark Tank and got a deal.
After the show, Dahlia wanted to reduce exchanges which were very high. She had two problems causing this:
- Inconsistent sizing across different coat styles
- Customers didn't read the size chart to pick the right size
To fix the first problem, Dahlia standardized coat sizes across all styles. This made things simpler.
For the second problem, she created a quiz on her website with Octane AI. The quiz interacts with customers to help them pick the perfect coat size for their child.
Before the quiz, Dahlia had 20 exchanges per day. After launching the quiz, she only has 20 exchanges per week!
The quiz taught customers how to choose the right size and matched them to the coat they needed, which ultimately reduced returns by 95%.
The money saved on returns now goes back into growing her business. A great example of how quizzes boost revenue and cut returns.
Monitoring and Measuring Success
In the pursuit of reducing Ecommerce returns, a crucial aspect often overlooked is the ongoing monitoring and measurement of success.
To ensure that your strategies are effective and your efforts are bearing fruit, it's essential to establish key performance indicators (KPIs) and regularly assess your progress. In this section, we'll delve into the importance of monitoring and measuring success and provide practical insights into the process.
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
To gauge the impact of your return reduction strategies, it's imperative to define and track specific KPIs. These KPIs serve as quantifiable benchmarks that help you measure success. Common KPIs related to reducing Ecommerce returns include:
- Return Rate: The percentage of orders that result in returns. A lower return rate indicates success in reducing returns.
- Customer Satisfaction: Measured through post-purchase surveys or customer feedback, a higher satisfaction rate suggests that your strategies are resonating with customers.
- Net Promoter Score (NPS): Measures customer loyalty and likelihood to recommend your brand to others. A higher NPS indicates a positive customer experience.
- Repeat Purchase Rate: The percentage of customers who return to make additional purchases. An increase in this rate suggests customer retention and satisfaction.
- Quality Control Metrics: Metrics related to product quality, such as the percentage of defective items reported or the frequency of damaged shipments.
Regular Monitoring and Analysis
Monitoring and measuring success should be an ongoing process. Regularly assess your KPIs and compare them to previous periods to identify trends and patterns. For instance, if your return rate was 10% in the previous quarter and drops to 8% in the current quarter after implementing return reduction strategies, it's a positive indicator of success.
Additionally, analyze customer feedback and reviews to identify recurring themes or issues. Are customers consistently reporting sizing problems, product defects, or shipping delays? Identifying these patterns can help you make informed adjustments to your strategies.
Success in reducing Ecommerce returns is not a one-time achievement; it's an ongoing journey. Use the insights gained from monitoring and analysis to make iterative improvements. For example, if customer feedback indicates persistent issues with product quality, consider revisiting your quality control processes or your supplier relationships.
Moreover, regularly review the effectiveness of your personalization algorithms and recommendations. Are they leading to a reduction in returns and increased customer satisfaction? If not, fine-tune your algorithms, and A/B test different approaches to optimize their performance.
Feedback Loop with Customers
Engage with your customers in an ongoing feedback loop. Use their insights and suggestions to inform your strategies. For example, if customers express a desire for more detailed product descriptions, consider implementing changes to meet their needs.
There is a ton of valuable insights that you’d find in the customer product reviews. I wrote a whole piece on this, and how you can unlock the power of your customers’ opinions. Read it here.
Reducing returns should be a top priority for Ecommerce brands. Not only are returns costly, but high rates also indicate dissatisfied customers. Luckily, there are tangible strategies you can implement to lower return rates while keeping shoppers happy.
First, optimize product pages with high-quality photos, accurate titles, and detailed descriptions. This gives customers confidence they are selecting the right product. Provide interactive sizing charts and guidelines to remove fit guesswork. Curate customer photos and candid reviews so shoppers can learn from real experiences.
On the operations side, offer free, easy returns with pre-paid shipping. Issue refunds quickly without frustration. Train customer service to handle each return with care - don't treat customers like fraudsters.
Encourage brand loyalty: Implementing a return policy that encourages brand loyalty is equally important. Many retailers have made their return policies more lenient over the past year, and these brands have increasingly found that their new policies have led to higher sales and fewer returned items. Customers who have a good return experience are more likely to shop again, and Ecommerce businesses with at least 40% repeat customers are likely to have 50% higher sales
By focusing efforts on product page details and sizing guidance, you set accurate expectations. Coupled with customer-centric policies, you reduce return rates while building loyalty.
If you want to test a quiz to get your learn more about your customers, and help find the optimal product and sizing, Octane AI’s interactive quizzes are a perfect solution. You can book a demo and see why 3,000 Shopify merchants are seeing revenue increase by 50% or more with quizzes.