Eight Tactics for Reducing Ecommerce Returns

Product returns are the bane of every ecommerce manager's existence. If your online business is struggling with a higher than average return rate, this Insight will provide you with a variety of tactics you can utilize to remedy that problem.

Ecommerce returns are an ongoing problem that nearly every online business deals with. 

It’s estimated that there will be 2.05 billion global online shoppers in 2020, and nearly a third of all products purchased online end up being returned to the retailer.

That equates to an estimated 600+ million products being sent back to merchants in this year alone.

And with U.S. ecommerce sales on the rise since mid-April, these forecasts are only slated to increase as the year progresses.

As to be expected, this influx in product returns is putting more and more stress on the shoulders of ecommerce store owners. 57 percent of retailers report that dealing with returns has had a negative impact on their day-to-day operations, and 20 percent reported having to increase the price of their products to offset the cost of customers sending items back. 

Here’s the bottom line: If your online business doesn’t already have an effective strategy for dealing with ecommerce returns, it’s time to take action.

While it’s inevitable that every company (regardless of size) will have to deal with a certain degree of returns, there’s a lot you can do to optimize your customer experience so it reduces the chances of customers needing to send items back. 

In this Insight, we’ll be focusing on specific strategies you can employ to help reduce returns for your business and provide a better shopping experience for your customers.

Here’s what we’ll be covering: 

  • What motivates customers to return an item?
  • How to optimize your website experience to reduce returns
  • Next steps for your business

What motivates customers to return products?

Before we focus on how you can reduce ecommerce returns for your business, it’s important to understand why customers are sending items back in the first place.

The three main reasons why products get sent back to the retailer are: 1) The incorrect item or size was ordered, 2) The item failed to meet the expectation/description, and 3) The item was damaged upon arrival.

chart that shows reasons for ecommerce returns

A simple survey asking your customers why they decided to return a product will give you invaluable insight into what aspects of your on-site experience may be to blame. If customers are frequently sending items back because they don’t fit properly, that’s a clear indication that there’s something wrong with your sizing chart, or that you should display product dimensions more prominently on the product detail page (PDP). 

Optimization should never be a guessing game. Identifying the source of the problem before beginning to test solutions will save you a lot of wasted time and effort in the long-run. 

Optimizing your website experience to reduce ecommerce returns

When we’re working with a brand that’s struggling with a high rate of return, we often recommend they implement a combination of tactics to help rectify the problem. The following seven recommendations are what we’ve found to be most effective at reducing returns. 

1. Implement a liberal return policy: 

Promising customers an easy and expedited return process upfront will empower them to purchase a product with the confidence that if for some reason the product doesn’t end up working out, they can send it back worry-free.

There’s a reason why brands like Nordstrom and IKEA are known for their liberal return policies. Generosity builds trust, and trust leads potential customers further down the path to conversion.

graphic showing 80% of customers are loyal to brands with easy ecommerce return policies

One of the worst things you can do as an ecommerce business is restrict your return policy to save a buck. 69 percent of consumers won’t even purchase from a brand if they don’t offer to pay for return shipping, and 33 percent will not complete a purchase if they’re unable to easily locate the company’s return or exchange policy on the site.

An important point to note here is that we recommend you implement a fair return policy, not an excessively generous one. Companies like LL Bean and Glossier who are well-known for their liberal return policies have had to revise them in recent years because of abuse.

Every ecommerce business has the choice to enact a generous return policy. If you choose to go to the trouble of implementing one for your customers, you’re likely to see positive results because of it.

2. Focus on detail-rich product descriptions: 

A key contributor to product returns is when a product fails to live up to the expectations that were set on the website. It’s frustrating receiving a product that you may have waited weeks to get in the mail, only to open it up and realize it’s not what you wanted or needed.

The best way to eliminate customer disappointment is by bolstering your PDP descriptions. Make sure your customers know exactly what they’re ordering. This is the template structure we use when optimizing product descriptions for our clients:

  1. Create a description headline that will hook your audience.
  2. Use a description paragraph to expand on what makes the product unique. Focus on providing a solution rather than describing benefits.
  3. Follow the description with a bulleted list of key product specifications and features.
  4. Conclude with credibility, social proof, or urgency, and include a call-to-action to motivate the user to purchase.

A great source of research for writing more persuasive product descriptions is your customer reviews. Here’s what Lianna Patch (Punchline Conversion Copywriting) had to say about writing great product descriptions:

“Mine reviews to identify patterns in what customers were/are wary of, what they appreciate, how they perceive and compare the product to competitors, and even pull language verbatim to use in your product copy.”

Identify what your customers appreciate about a specific product and amplify that in your product description.

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3. Focus on improving product imagery:

22 percent of returns occur because the product looked different in-person than how it was displayed on the website. The root of this problem lies in the quality and variety of your product images. 

This is a fairly obvious recommendation, but you’d be surprised how often it’s overlooked when a brand is working to optimize the customer experience of their site.

Providing a variety of product images that show multiple angles and situations can not only improve conversion rates, but also reduce the chance of a customer being surprised by what they thought they ordered. Show the customer how the product could fit into their life rather than trying to guess how they’ll use it.

The DTC brand, Allbirds, sets the standard high for product imagery. Each of their product pages has 8+ images, each showing a different angle of the product. In addition to the images, they include a video that demonstrates how the shoes fit on a model’s feet.

Allbirds product images may help reduce ecommerce returns

4. Implement a dynamic sizing chart:

Providing your customers with an accurate and detailed sizing chart is an essential part of reducing returns for your products. This is especially relevant if you’re in the apparel industry, as average return rates for online apparel brands hovers around 40 percent. 

ASOS has a great approach to helping customers pick the proper size with a short survey that utilizes aggregate data from past purchasers to help users select the right for them. You have the option to input your height, weight, body type, and personal fit preferences before the algorithm provides you with an accurate estimate of your perfect size. It’s a helpful and efficient way of reducing returns to provide a more user-focused shopping experience.

ASOS ecommerce returns

5. Elevate the value of customer reviews:

Giving customers the option to leave detail-oriented product reviews is a great tactic for elevating social proof on a PDP. Additionally, it can unlock valuable insight into your products that otherwise would not have been discovered.

Another way to get the most out of customer reviews is to have fields like height, weight, body type, and size ordered and then offer filters to those specifications. Everlane does this really well. You’re able to search for people who are your same height and weight and see if the size they ordered worked for them.

Nike sets a great example for how you can get the most out of reviews. They provide customers with the option to evaluate products based on three criteria: size, comfort, and durability. If a particular item runs small, you can indicate that in your review so future customers don’t find themselves ordering the wrong size. This information is also collected and used by the company to help make improvements to product design.

Nike product descriptions reduce ecommerce returns

Working with a third-party review collection company will help you capture more reviews from your customers in a shorter amount of time. Different businesses require different review tools and distribution channels. If you’re looking to outsource the task of review collection to another agency, Shopper Approved is a company we’d recommend considering. 

6. Start implementing product videos:

If customers are sending back products because they don’t meet the expectations that were set in the product description, you may want to consider adding a video element to your PDP. Product videos are becoming an increasingly effective method for improving conversion rates, and 65 percent of consumers say they can better imagine themselves using a product after they’ve viewed a product video.

The DTC brand Away makes great use of product videos to help show the scale and functionality of their travel bags. It’s a quick win that’s guaranteed to improve conversion rates while also reducing the likelihood of customers returning purchases. 

product videos

7. Promote exchanges instead of returns: 

A 2018 consumer report from Narvar found that 57 percent of shoppers will replace the item they returned, and only 16 percent of customers will switch to a different retailer to find the same product. By making the exchange process easier, retailers can capture this revenue and keep customers coming back.

We recommend offering immediate refunds for ecommerce returns, and fast exchanges for products of equivalent value. Making your customers wait around until the return process is complete to issue a refund is a surefire way to get them to switch to a different retailer to find the same product. 

chart showing ecommerce returns

8. Send a Post-Purchase Email 

Sending a post-purchase email to your customers can be a highly effective method for reducing returns. Use the opportunity between order and delivery to educate customers about the product, reduce objections that lead to returns, and keep people excited about what they just purchased. Here’s what Val Geisler (Fix My Churn) has to say about post-purchase emails: 

“It’s your job as a brand to ensure that customers are excited about the product long after they hit purchase. Send educational emails and engage your customers so they never regret their purchase. Get them excited for delivery, don’t let them sit and wonder if they made a good decision or not.”

Regardless of the type of product you’re selling, sending a post-purchase email to educate customers about their purchase is an important part of decreasing returns and providing an optimal customer experience. 

Make your return process seamless

Clearly there’s no way to completely prevent returns from occurring, so it’s important to have a strategy for managing returns in the most efficient way possible when they do occur.

A great way to simplify the returns process for your business is by working with a third-party logistics (3PL) provider. Our partners at ShipBob are one of the best logistics solutions for ecommerce businesses of all sizes. If you’re an emerging online business and don’t have the resources to fully overhaul your logistics operations, you should seriously consider working with a 3PL company. 

Take the necessary steps to reduce returns

It’s inevitable that you’ll have to deal with a certain amount of returns as an ecommerce business owner, but if you take the necessary steps now, you can significantly reduce the likelihood of it happening.

By implementing the tactics mentioned above, you can help provide your customers with a clearer picture of your products, and ensure that a higher percentage of them are satisfied with their purchase.

If your business is struggling with a high return rate, you may consider looking into a conversion optimization program. Iterative optimization is the best approach to solving an issue like this, especially if you haven’t been able to properly identify the source of the problem.

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About the Author

Rudy Klobas

Rudy Klobas regularly works to produce insightful, informative content and copywriting designed to help ecommerce leaders increase conversions.