5 Ways to Reduce E-commerce Returns

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This article was originally published on November 1, 2017. It was updated on August 4, 2021.

Key Takeaways

  • There are many reasons why a customer will return a purchased product and human error is the most common cause of this—mostly by the merchant.
  • Adding plenty of pictures, detailed descriptions, and customer reviews set the proper expectation for the customers, hence, minimising returns.
  • At the same time, be wary of serial returners as some of them could be your most loyal customers.

eCommerce retailers know that returns are a part of life.  Without the opportunity to touch, hold or try on merchandise they buy online, it's inevitable that customers will return a large share of it. According to one report, an average of 30% of all eCommerce purchases are returned, compared to about 9% of brick-and-mortar purchases. Fortunately, there are five simple steps you can take to minimize returns now and all year long. But first, we need to understand why customers return eCommerce products.

Common Reasons For eCommerce Returns 

Studying the reasons why consumers return products will help you deal with or prevent eCommerce returns altogether. Here are the most common reasons:

Buyer’s remorse

Considered one of the main reasons for returns, buyer’s remorse occurs when a customer feels a sense of regret from the product they’ve purchased. This can be caused by a number of reasons ranging from price disparities to impulsive buying. The best way to combat this phenomenon is by emphasizing your product’s features and benefits.

Product doesn’t meet expectations

Customers shouldn’t be surprised by the product they ordered. The item description and image should perfectly match what’s delivered. 

For example, imagine seeing an ad for a Mickey Mouse t-shirt, you purchase it online; but upon opening the package you find a knockoff. The listing must match the physical product or you’re destined to see it returned.

Wrong product

Similar to missing a customer’s expectations, delivering the wrong product will guarantee it’s return. Human error is the most common cause of this, whether it’s because of careless picking or random occurrence. Regardless, you should be prepared in case your customer receives something other than what they ordered.


Developing a strong return policy will ease a customer’s distress and allow you to fix the issue without losing the sale. You should also evaluate your fulfillment process and make sure everything is running smoothly. There’s no such thing as being too prepared.


Damaged products

Receiving a damaged product is another common reason to initiate a return. Throughout the fulfillment process, your product will touch many hands. Which is why ensuring the safety of your product is crucial. Simply adding packing paper or a “fragile” disclaimer on your packaging can help avoid damaged goods.

Customer ethics

It’s not uncommon for consumers to be the cause of a return. In fact, a study shows that in 2020, $428 billion in merchandise was returned, and almost 6% of those returns were fraudulent. These schemes include acts such as returning stolen items, price switching, open-box fraud, and more. 

People who participate in these acts typically take advantage of a merchant’s return policy. Luckily, some marketplaces like Amazon are cracking down on fraudsters.

How to Reduce eCommerce Returns

Now that you’re aware of why consumers choose to return products, we’ll walk you through the best practices to reduce those returns.

1.     Maintain high quality standards 

Poor product quality is a common reason why products bought online get returned. Regularly inspect your inventory to make sure your suppliers are maintaining the level of quality you expect.

2.     Package products carefully

If items are damaged or broken during shipping because they weren't properly packaged, you're going to deal with returns. Provide adequate protection for fragile products and mark packages for special handling when needed.

eCommerce dashboard for product descriptions

3.    Provide detailed product descriptions 

When a product description is sparse, shoppers have to take a chance and order an item without knowing its dimensions, fabric content, etc. When the product isn’t as expected, it gets returned. The more detail you can provide on your site, the better the decisions customers can make. Here’s some of the information you should provide:

  • Dimensions (including both product dimensions and shipping dimensions, if relevant)
  • Weight (including both item weight and shipping package weight, if relevant)
  • Materials, composition or fabric
  • Size charts (for apparel or shoes). Different manufacturers may size clothing differently, so it's important to include details for each manufacturer.
  • Product warranties or guarantees
  • Instructions for using or assembling the product

Include plenty of images 

Online shoppers expect more than just one blurry photo of a product. Be sure to:

  • Show the product from multiple angles, either with multiple photos or a 360-degree rotation tool.
  • Enable zoom so product details such as fabric weave can be seen.
  • Include other items or people to show scale when necessary.
  • Include a video of the product in use or being worn.
  • If something comes in multiple colors, show all views of the item in all of the colors, rather than just showing a color swatch.

Add customer reviews 

Shoppers can use customer reviews to get more details about the item. For instance, reviews can inform others if apparel or shoes run small or large, alert them to quality issues, or point out when pictured colors don't match the item.

Looking for some examples of how to do product descriptions, images, and reviews right?

  • Check out this product description of a steel shelving unit on the Home Depot website. In addition to multiple photos and a video, there’s general information about the product, a product spec sheet, and additional information and guidance on assembly.
  • Zappos does a great job of providing details about shoes, including materials, sizing, and images, as well as reviews.
  • Handbag and accessories retailer Rebecca Minkoff’s “Size Me Up” feature lets shoppers visualize how a particular handbag will look on a person their height and weight; how many common items (wallet, smartphone, etc.) can fit in the handbag; and what the scale of the bag is.
Black small business owner talking on his mobile phone

4.     Provide helpful customer service

It’s not enough to simply have a good return policy, you need systems in place to deal with customer inquiries. In terms of returns, nothing shows your customers that you care like a speedy resolution. Whether that’s responding to a negative social media comment or keeping in constant contact with a disgruntled customer, providing expert customer service can make or break your store. It’s the difference between a loyal, life-long customer and a lost sale.

5.     Deter serial returners

Over the years, eCommerce marketplaces have put regulations and preventive measures into effect to deter return fraud. Individually owned web stores are following suit, re-evaluating their return policy and adopting similar methods to combat serial returners. Methods like tracking software have proven successful for some online merchants. While these practices can be beneficial in reducing return rates, there’s a risk that comes with it. Depending on your audience, some consumers find it invasive and may avoid stores that track their information, so be cautious in considering this route. 

 

Let's face it: Returns will always be part of eCommerce — and often, those frequent returners are some of your most loyal customers. But by taking the steps above, you can ensure your customers are more likely to be satisfied with their purchases, and that you'll have fewer returns to handle. For more useful eCommerce tips, check out our blog. We cover everything from beginner guides to choosing the right fulfillment provider. 

 

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