Happy ecommerce shopper with no returns

How To Lower Ecommerce Returns in 5 Steps

Returns will always be a part of the retail landscape, but closing the divide between expectation and real-world experience can help retailers decrease their rate of returns and lower costs. From enhanced product detail pages (PDP) to post-purchase education, here are five steps you can take to lower your ecommerce returns.

Increase representation in photography

Apparel returns account for 10.01% of all ecommerce returns—the highest amount of any product category. It can be challenging to choose the right size or cut in apparel when shopping online, but showing apparel on models of different sizes can help shoppers visualize how an item will look on their own bodies (and minimize bracketing in the process).

Instead of photographing only one model per item, shoot apparel on 2-3 models of different sizes for each item. Include each model’s height and measurements (chest/bust, waist, and hips), as well as the size they’re wearing in the photo.

Reformation product imagery and sizing 

Incentivize reviews

Shoppers want to read reviews before making a purchase which is why 86% will not make a purchase without reading reviews. Offering customers a discount on a future purchase to review their recent purchases can drive repeat sales as well as increase first-time conversions. 

Examples of reviews from Athleta as part of a sweepstakes program

The boost lies in the fact that reviews help customers set more reasonable expectations and steer customers toward making smarter purchases. 

Consider the likely outcomes from these common reviews:

Product description pages are created with conversion in mind, so they present merchandise in the best light possible. That approach creates outsized expectations for many items, and disappointment when the product doesn’t deliver. When a customer is disappointed, the order is probably going to be returned. 

Customer reviews offer a more accurate perspective, including real-life experience with product performance, which can lower ecommerce return rates.

Add questions and answers

Even the best product marketing professional won’t anticipate all the questions customers might have about an item. Research shows that 91% of answers to questions on product pages were not addressed in the original marketing copy. Adding a questions and answers section to PDPs gives customers a channel to discover if an item will meet their needs before they make a purchase. 

When retailers handle those inquiries on an individual basis through customer service, they incur duplicative costs by answering the same question multiple times. Publishing the answers creates a more robust PDP and minimizes customer service costs.

Home Depot product page questions and answers

Educate the customer

Retailers should use post-purchase communication to set the customer up for success. For purchases like furniture (which may require assembly) or electronics (which may require set-up), retailers can use the shipping and processing period to remind customers about any additional tools or software needed to use their item upon arrival. 

For example, audio company Sonos uses branded tracking pages and emails to explain how to create an account, download the app, and custom-tune their devices with Trueplay. By educating the customer before their order arrives, Sonos increases excitement around the unboxing moment, and reduces customer service queries. 

Sonos post-purchase onboarding

Offer white-glove service

If set-up and assembly are more than the customer can handle—or the customer feels too lazy to deal with it—they will return the item. Offering a white-glove service to eliminate the customer’s pain points can help retailers increase sales and cut down on returns. Best of all, the retailer doesn’t have to absorb the extra cost—the customer is typically responsible for white-glove add-ons. 

Ikea is a prime example of a company that offers white-glove add-ons to reduce returns. By offering customers the option to book a TaskRabbit to assemble their purchases during check-out, Ikea minimizes the number of customers who take advantage of their generous 365-day return policy.

Ikea’s TaskRabbit offer

Natural white glove add-ons in ecommerce can include:

  • Furniture assembly, set-up, and packaging removal
  • Electronics installation and set-up
  • On-demand pickups for tailoring or shoe enhancements (e.g., non-slip soles, shoe stretching, stain-proofing)
  • Appliance installation and hauling services
  • Grocery delivery and in-home cold storage 

Customers hate making returns. A 2022 survey of 2,000 U.S. adults found that 58% of shoppers would be willing to do “nearly anything” to avoid returning the items they bought. While retailers have to approach returns as a service, they should also consider how enhanced services can eliminate the need for returns. 

Strategies will vary by product category. By leveraging data points like existing reviews or reasons for returns, retailers can bridge the gap between expectation and experience to reduce returns.

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