9 ways to reduce product returns

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If you sell products, then you know returns are an inconvenient part of doing business.

According to a Barclaycard report, 30% of shoppers intentionally order more items than they need with the idea that they will return the excess. This can present a genuine problem for retailers. In this same report, Barclaycard states that an astonishing 60% of retailers are negatively impacted by returns.

You might be wondering what’s causing all these returns. 

In this commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of UPS, 23% of returns occur because the customer received the wrong item, 22% because the item received was not as portrayed online, and 23% because the item received was damaged.

While there’s no surefire way to completely eliminate returns, the upside is many of the issues that cause people to return items are preventable.

Today, we’ll examine nine ways to lower the number of returns you receive.

1. Start with quality control to reduce returns

As we mentioned earlier, 23% of returns happen because companies shipped an incorrect item. This is a quality control issue on the part of your warehouse and shipping team. 

Mis-ships happen, particularly as businesses grow.

If you’re a small retailer, you can manually package and ship every order yourself. You can double-check the order against what’s in the box before shipping. It’s easier to ensure shipments are correct when you take this hands-on approach. 

Larger companies don’t have this luxury. This is where automation can solve your problems. 

Inventory management software with a warehouse management component can help you reduce the number of returns you receive.

How does it help you achieve this goal?

  • Fewer picking errors 

With an automated picking process, you can minimize errors, and your inventory is easier to track.

  • Better quality control

Quality control tools allow you to minimize mis-picks, mis-ships, and damaged items without having to dedicate members of your team to the process.

  • Makes shipping more manageable 

Inventory management software that integrates with your shipping software can eliminate shipping errors and help you fulfill orders with higher accuracy.

2. Represent products accurately

One of the most common causes for returns involves the dreaded “product not as described” issue.

In the online retail space, this can be a recurring issue. Customers can’t touch products. They’re forced to look at pictures and spec sheets. 

Because of this, it’s important to accurately describe your products so customers are clear on what to expect when they purchase an item. How can you improve your descriptions? Here are some simple tips

  • High-quality photos

The importance of good product photos can’t be understated.

You’ll want to make sure your photos are high-res, taken from multiple angles, and clearly show things like the color of the product.

If this feels beyond your abilities, consider hiring a photographer. The money spent getting good pictures will pay for itself with the reduced return rate.

  • Better product descriptions 

Images are only half the battle. You’ll also want to be sure your written product descriptions are accurate and contain all the relevant information a customer might need to know. Be sure to include dimensions, options, and other pertinent information here.

3. Represent Sizing Correctly

One of the most common causes for returns in the apparel industry is products not fitting. With online shoppers not being able to try on clothes before buying, it makes sense that items get returned because they don’t fit.

You can reduce the number of returns you receive over sizing issues by using tools like sizing software and sizing charts.

  • Sizing software

 These tools, like VirtueSize and TruFit, allow online shoppers to figure out how well clothes will fit before they try them on. 

The various sizing software options use different ways to determine how things will fit a customer, but no matter what you use, these tools can help reduce returns by allowing customers to figure out how clothes will fit before they buy them.

  • Sizing charts

The sizing chart isn’t as high-tech a solution as sizing software, but including a sizing chart on your site for customers purchasing attire can help prevent returns as well.

4. Encourage customer reviews and feedback

One of the best ways to help reduce the number of returns you receive is by encouraging customers to leave their own reviews and feedback on products they’ve purchased.

Amazon is a master at this. Think of how many things you’ve bought from the giant online retailer, then think about how many times you’ve looked at the breakdown of 1-5 star ratings and read the most popular positive and negative reviews. Did those help you make a decision? If you’re like us, they did.

One of the great things about customer reviews is that potential customers tend to trust them more than a product description or your own marketing copy.

Customers will point out the pros and cons of an item, talk about whether sizing and descriptions were accurate, and give honest feedback on the item in question. 

Taking another page from Amazon and including a section where customers can answer questions from potential buyers can further reduce return issues.

If you’re not taking advantage of customer reviews and feedback, it’s time to consider adding it to your site.

5. Package your items properly

We’ve already discussed how often a return gets initiated because the product arrived damaged. We can head this problem off by making sure our packaging is up to the task of surviving the shipping process. 

Packaging is a place where some sellers will try to cut corners and save money. This is a mistake.

Once a product leaves the warehouse or shipping center, things may be out of your hands, but we can work to prevent unforeseen issues by making sure we’re going above and beyond with our packaging.

Select sturdy boxes. Make sure the product is packed securely inside the box or envelope. Do not skimp on shipping materials. 

As a rule of thumb, choose a sturdier box and better supplies than you think you’ll need. There will be an added cost in this approach, but the additional money spent on higher-quality packaging is still less expensive than return shipping and replacing damaged items. 

There are places where cutting costs make sense. Packaging and shipping materials are not one of them.

6. Clearly display delivery estimates

 In today’s world, everyone wants their products yesterday. This isn’t feasible, but displaying your delivery estimates to customers before they buy can save you headaches.

If a customer needs an item this week, but you won’t ship until next week, there’s a good chance that the product will be returned because the customer no longer needs it when it arrives. 

If you clearly mark your delivery window on the product page, customers will be happier because they know when to expect the item, and you cannot only avoid returns but countless “where is my item?” emails. 

Again, Amazon is fantastic at this. They not only tell you when you’ll receive an item, but they’ll tell you how much time you have left to order for that delivery estimate to be valid.

If you’re not giving your customers delivery estimates, you’re not only missing out on an easy way to reduce returns but a great way to enhance your customer service as well.

7. Offer live chat and real-time support

One great way to lower your return rate is by heading off a potential return before the process is actually started. You can achieve this goal by implementing a live chat program and real-time support.

Sometimes, returns happen because the customer thinks there’s a problem that isn’t actually a problem. They may not understand how to assemble something and assume it’s damaged or missing parts, for example.

With live chat and real-time support, your customer can let your reps try to resolve the issue before the return process is initiated.

Beyond that, having real-time support means that in some instances, you can avoid returns by simply replacing the item without a return or refunding the purchase price directly (both things will save you money on return shipping).

Taking that a step further, many companies will also offer refunds in the form of store credit, thereby eliminating a return and ensuring the customer will still spend money with you. Having live reps dealing directly with customers can make this option more viable.

If you just have an automated return process, you’re missing out on these opportunities. Live chat and real-time support programs can help you better connect with your customers and resolve issues without having to resort to returns.

8. Adopt a liberal returns policy

Building on that last point, it’s always a good thing to have a liberal returns policy. 

Your business will never completely eliminate returns (unless you have a strict “all sales are final” policy), so it’s important to craft a return policy that makes the process easy for both you and the customer. 

The key here is to explain the return policy at the time of purchase.

Here are things to include in your return policy: 

  • Amount of time to initiate a return
  • How you process refunds
  • Who pays for return shipping
  • What type of returns are acceptable
  • What to include with each return
  • Are there restocking fees?
  • Legal disclaimers

A good rule of thumb is to cap the return period at 30 days. Brick and mortar retailers often require receipts or proof of purchase, but this is less of an issue for online sellers. 

In most instances, sellers will pay for return shipping, but be sure to clarify this in your policy.

At the end of the day, most customers would rather not go through the returns process. Returning an item as a customer is as much a hassle as dealing with them as a seller. Make the process as painless as possible by clearly outlining your policies.

9. Analyze and improve

Our final recommendation for reducing returns is to analyze and improve your process whenever possible.

Many companies take a “set it and forget it” approach to their returns process, but even the best system needs monitoring and tweaking over time.

Look at your return rates regularly. Examine the reasons for returns. Are there common issues? If it’s “product not as described,” then you know you need to improve your descriptions. If packages are arriving damaged, you may not be packing properly or might need to find a different shipping solution.

 Every return provides you with insights and data that you can use to make your business better. Not analyzing this data and using it to improve is a huge missed opportunity.

Final thoughts

Returns are inevitable. If you sell products, sooner or later, customers will want to send things back. It’s part of doing business. 

However, we can reduce the number of returns we get by following the steps outlined in this article. Every year returns cost businesses vast sums of money. In many instances, these returns could have been avoided.

Taking the time to analyze why people are returning products will give you valuable insights into where problems are happening. From there, it’s simply a matter of fixing those problems to ensure your customers are happy.

Reducing the number of returns you receive is in everyone’s best interest. Fewer returns save you money on replacement items, shipping, and other factors. It also creates a better customer experience and helps build trust between your business and potential buyers. 

Reducing your returns isn’t a monumental undertaking. Most of these steps can be applied with little effort or change. The effort is worth it. Keeping your return rate low is good business.

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