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Here’s How To Reduce Returns In 8 Steps

6 Minute Read
March 8, 2019
eCommerce & Retail Insights

Reduce your product returns, protect your profits and increase customer satisfaction with our top tips.

In a recent study, Barclaycard calculated that UK shoppers are returning £7 billion of purchases every year [1]. Online retailers need to give the subject of product returns serious consideration then in order to maximise their margins. This should include strategies for firstly reducing return rates and then streamlining internal processes to deal with the percentage of returns that remain unavoidable.

According to PostNord, 40% of UK consumers have returned at least one online purchase in the past year. This figure increases to 52% in The Netherlands and 53% in Germany [2].

To protect their profits, retailers may consider transferring the cost of product returns to the customer, however with 55% of online retailers now offering free returns and almost 70% of consumers expecting free returns as standard [3], if retailers want to remain competitive they are going to need to look at this issue from a different angle.

Although some returns are inevitable due to the remote nature of eCommerce, there are a some adjustments that could see your returns rate plummet. Read about improving your customer returns process here.

8 tips to reduce product returns

  1. Make sure your imagery provides an accurate representation of your products
  2. Use video to bring your products to life
  3. Write detailed product descriptions
  4. Review your sizing information
  5. Encourage customer reviews and feedback
  6. Offer live chat for real time support
  7. Package your items with their journey in mind
  8. Clearly display delivery estimates

1. Make sure your imagery provides an accurate representation of your products

It may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s incredible the number of product pages we see containing a single product image. Products have multiple sides, angles and hidden features – the customer needs to see them all. Providing 360 degree product images is a great way to get this across in an elegant way, and is especially useful if you’re selling a technical item or a piece of furniture.

If 360 degree product imagery isn’t something you’re able to invest in at the moment then make sure you provide the ability to zoom and view close-up images of any details such as stitching, fastenings and the inside of drawers.

Don’t overlook the images you are providing on a mobile. For the majority of eCommerce sites, mobile and tablet traffic will now amount to more than desktop traffic.

2. Use video to bring your products to life

You only have to look at the success of home shopping channels to understand how effective videos are for remote selling. They are a great way of bringing products to life and can be especially effective when used for the two highest returned categories – clothing and home electronics [4].

With clothing, models can show off the movement of the garment, giving shoppers a better idea of the fit and flow.

For functional, home electronics items, videos can demonstrate the product in use. AO.com do this particularly well with detailed videos talking through all the features and benefits of each product in order to help the customer make the right decision.

3. Write detailed product descriptions

Not only are detailed product descriptions great for SEO, they also help shoppers decide whether or not your product is right for them.

Descriptions need to be clear on the particulars of a product so make sure that the person writing your descriptions knows your products well. Ideally they should have tried the product for themselves and have it in front of them as they write the description. If you’re in need of help with writing product descriptions, check out our complete guide to writing product descriptions that actually convert.

We often recommend explaining all the features and benefits of a product as if you were describing it to someone who could not see it for themselves. Would they still know what they were getting?

You should talk about the product in an appealing way as if you were selling it face-to-face in your bricks-and-mortar store, however don’t exaggerate as this will only come back to bite you.

Specification information is a must for technical products. Different customers will be looking for different attributes, for example, bigger isn’t always better – don’t try to make out a TV is big if it isn’t – your customer may be looking for a small TV to fit in a specific spot.

4. Review your sizing information

"Two in five consumers say they return clothing bought online because items don’t fit as they expect them to."

You may think that you already have this covered if you provide sizing charts on your product pages but take a look back and consider just how accurate and useful this information is to each of your customers.

One of the biggest and most common mistakes we see is offering a single default sizing chart covering all categories, across all your product pages – this is not accurate and will be highly frustrating to your customers!

Make sure that the sizing chart you provide on a particular product page is relevant for that particular product, category and brand. Don’t use a clothing size charts on a footwear product pages and make sure you provide accurate sizing charts for different brands – one brand’s size 8 may be the same as another brand’s size 10. If using a model in your imagery, make sure you give information on their height and which size they’re wearing.

If you sell overseas, make sure that you are providing international conversion charts for clothing, and both metric and imperial measurements for dimensions. Some customers may think they know how to convert the numbers in their head but do you want to rely on that?

Show measurement charts and dimensions in image form so the customer knows exactly how your item has been measured. You can even provide fitting tools such as ASOS’s Fit Assistant.

5. Encourage customer reviews and feedback

Encourage customer reviews and feedback so that you can learn more about the products you sell and how they’re used in real life scenarios. This will help you identify any potential quality issues with either the products that you stock or the information you’re providing about them.

On returns forms, provide tick boxes that will help flag issues such as if it looks different in the images or it seems larger/smaller than expected. You can then go back to review your product listings to see if they could be improved.

Offer incentives to increase the number of reviews such as ‘win your shopping’ or a voucher for a discount off your next purchase.

6. Offer live chat for real-time support

Let shoppers quickly ask you questions about products in real time. This will help both conversion rate and prevent customers from ordering items that don’t meet their requirements.

If the items don’t meet the customer’s requirements, this also gives the customer service team the opportunity to suggest a more suitable item or an add-on purchase to make it better suit their needs.

If you’re going to offer live chat to your customers, make sure that you educate customer services on your products so that they know the best product to suit the customer. Hold regular team meetings to showcase new products and discuss feedback you’ve been getting on existing products.

7. Package your items with their journey in mind

From leaving your warehouse to reaching the customer’s door, you have little control over how your packages are handled. Prevent damaged and broken goods by ensuring you use protective packaging.

If your items are susceptible to water damage, use waterproof packaging – it could well be raining when your package is out for delivery.

For fragile items make sure you use enough padding and bubble wrap – it’s likely to be sat under a pile of other boxes at some point on the journey.

Mark your boxes with information about what’s inside and how they should be stored e.g. if it’s a plant, which way up does it need to be positioned and which temperature should it be kept at.

8. Clearly display delivery estimates

With approximately 33% of UK households now subscribing to Amazon Prime [5], shoppers are accustomed to receiving their online orders on the same or next day. If orders are going to take any longer to get to customers, you need to make it clear on your product pages, basket and checkout BEFORE the customer has placed their order. This is especially important in sectors where products are manufactured on demand and can have long lead times, for example furniture.

Make sure that any estimated dispatch and delivery dates take Bank Holidays and weekends into account. Allowing customers to select a specific day for delivery, can sometimes provide a more favourable experience even if they have to pay for the privilege.

[1], [3]:  Retailers Face A Phantom Economy Of £7 Billion Each Year
[2], [4] : eCommerce In Europe 2018
[5] : Amazon Prime Has Room Grow UK

Final thoughts

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