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Reducing Return Rates: Ecommerce Best Practices to Keep Customers Happy

Reducing Return Rates: Ecommerce Best Practices to Keep Customers Happy

Ecommerce has a growing returns problem. With average customer return rates of 20.8% for online purchase and growing, reverse logistics can quickly consume profits. Between transportation costs, restocking expenses, lost sales revenue, and reprocessing labor, high return rates diminish margins for online businesses. While consumers increasingly expect lenient and even free return shipping policies, brands need balanced strategies to reduce returns where possible while maintaining a positive customer experience. The good news is making targeted improvements throughout the online shopping journey can align purchases with desire and minimize buyer’s remorse and incorrect selections.

What's Driving the Rise of Ecommerce Returns?

Ecommerce return rates vary substantially depending on the product category, price point, target demographic, competition, and other factors. Apparel sees especially high return rates, averaging 24.4% for 2023 across retailers. The inherent challenges of conveying the nuances of fit, sizing, drape, and color for clothing and shoes online makes it difficult for customers to select the best size and style accurately. 

Within apparel, some segments see even higher rates. The highest among apparel are often jeans/bottoms, tops, and dresses. Dresses have been on the rise, peaking at 19% return rate this year while tops and pajamas are higher yet at 32.2% and 20.4% on average in 2023.

Generous return policies can also enable abuse by some serial returners who frequently buy and return items. Even brands with the best intentions get taken advantage of by a minority of customers who order items with the intent to wear or use briefly then return them. 

There are four core drivers behind most ecommerce returns:

  1. Poor fit and size mistakes, especially for apparel bought as gifts or without properly measuring or selecting the best fit.
  2. Products failing to match their descriptions, photography or other content details due to missing information, unclear images or incorrect messaging that sets unrealistic expectations.
  3. Buyer's remorse and changed minds, such as ordering multiple options just to try on at home or situations where the item looked different online than the customer hoped once received.
  4. Defective, expired or damaged items arriving broken, worn, stained or near expiration. Quality control failures lead to condition issues.

The Challenges of Conveying Apparel Fit and Sizing Online

For categories like clothing, shoes and accessories, inadequate size and fit details account for nearly 70% of returns. Traditional sizing charts only provide generic garment dimensions rather than how an item fits in reality on different body types. 

Without trying on in store, assessing personal fit is nearly impossible for customers initially. Some err toward purchasing multiple sizes to determine best fit, then return the unwanted options - adding overhead costs.

Fit frustration is even greater for shoe purchases, with feet coming in infinite shapes and high variability in size between brands. Without proper fit advice or virtual try-on tools, customers often resign themselves to ordering several pairs to find the best match.

Setting Accurate Expectations Through Detailed Product Pages

The first priority in any returns reduction initiative should be to convey highly accurate product details on category and product pages. This establishes trust and aligns expectations with the actual item's attributes once it arrives. 

For apparel, listings should include specific garment measurements, material composition details, care instructions, and origin information. Pages should incorporate lifestyle images of items worn on models of all sizes to showcase drape, movement, and versatile fit. 

Offering high resolution zoom capability enables inspecting fabric patterns and colors more closely. Fabric swatches demonstrate textures, sheens, and dye hues precisely on screen. Augmented reality can overlay apparel on virtual models of diverse sizes.

High value items like jewelry, electronics, and luxury goods should incorporate 360-degree spins, video demos, 3D models and other tools to provide full pre-purchase visibility. The goal is to mimic an in-store viewing experience digitally.

Product images should have color balance, brightness and lighting consistency to avoid misrepresenting colors, materials, silhouettes and other attributes. Photoshop manipulation should only be used minimally.

Simplifying Size and Style Selection for Apparel and Footwear

Enabling customers to easily determine the right size and style is crucial for minimizing fit-related returns. Effective strategies include: 

  • Offering detailed size charts with actual garment measurements for easy reference to current items. Go beyond generic size tables.
  • Fit finder quizzes asking for height, weight, body shape, fit preferences and other attributes to recommend the right sizes..
  • Displaying user reviews and detailed sizing guidance based on aggregated customer feedback about items running large, small, or true to size.
  • Showcasing products on models with diverse body types to give a realistic range of how items fit different figures.
  • Allowing customer Q&A before purchase to get personalized guidance from customer service on sizing and style questions.
  • Virtual try-on tools that enable uploading images or creating 3D model avatars to see virtual fit.

Building Trust Throughout the Online Shopping Journey

Beyond product pages, brands should optimize the entire online experience - from marketing to purchase to delivery - to establish confidence in buying, reinforce quality expectations, and prepare customers for the reality of the items ordered:

  • Intuitive site navigation, filtering, and voice/mobile search makes locating products easy. No dead ends or complex workflows.
  • Clear messaging on shipping, refunds, exchanges and return policies at checkout and throughout the site, especially on mobile.
  • Proactive pre-purchase communication via chat, text or email to answer individual questions about sizing, materials, fit and style recommendations. 
  • Post-purchase confirmation emails with order details, anticipated delivery timeframe, easy self-service returns instructions, and ongoing contact options.
  • Shipping notifications with carrier tracking updates at dispatch and through final delivery. Proactively notify of any delays.

Leveraging Premium Packaging from Unboxing to Returns

Packaging plays an important role in reinforcing product and brand quality from the unboxing moment forward. Companies should invest in premium branded boxes, sleeves, wraps, and custom printed inserts. 

Surprising and delighting customers with free product samples, coupons or other creative promotional items nested inside the packaging can encourage additional purchases. 

Ensuring packaging opens easily without sharp edges or excessive tape improves customer satisfaction. Inserting accessible prepaid return shipping labels and printable paperwork makes product returns simple for the customer and builds goodwill. 

Easy-to-read guides previewing product care, features and usage instructions set correct expectations about item attributes and function out of the box.

Optimizing the Inevitable Returns Process

Despite best efforts, returns will still occur. Making the return process quick and painless preserves customer loyalty and satisfaction for the long term. 

Brands should offer free, prepaid return shipping with multiple convenient dropoff options - from home pickup to retail locations to kiosks. Automating refund issuance immediately after receiving and inspecting returns reduces frustration. 

Rapidly processing returned merchandise back to saleable condition is also important. For faster turnover categories like apparel, specialized third-party processors can efficiently handle inspection, restocking and recovery. 

Analyzing return data identifies product-level trends, sizing issues, damaged items and other actionable insights to refine policies, sizes and product selections over time. The goal is continuous improvement.

In today's digital commerce environment, taking a balanced and strategic approach to returns is essential. Implementing tailored solutions across the customer journey - from detailed product pages to simplified sizing guides to premium packaging - enables ecommerce businesses to reduce returns, please shoppers, and protect profits. SEKO has deep expertise in streamlining returns through tech-enabled processes. Contact us to evaluate your operations and implement customized solutions.





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