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Customer Returns: Stats and Strategies

Customer returns have long been considered the “achilles heel” of selling online. While ecommerce continues to explode, returns remain an issue for many sellers and especially for small businesses.

 

Business 2 Community reports that while about 9% of brick and mortar purchases result in a return, over 30% of online items are returned. This is a massive difference, especially when you consider that the cost of return shipping must be factored into your net profits.


 

This week, we’re going to give you a lay of the land when it comes to online shopping and customer returns. We’ll also give you a few pointers on how to have fewer returns, and whether you should consider charging for return shipping.

 

Why do people do it?

 

Obviously, the reasons behind returns vary greatly from industry to industry. We did find some overall stats (from 2015) about why customers return items:

 

20% damaged products

22% product looks different

23% received wrong item

35% other reasons

 

By this point, you may have realized that about two thirds of product returns are undeniably on the seller. And sure, your products may be different, but that doesn’t change the end goal. As a Huffington Post article asserted back in 2016, people want easy returns. And you as a seller should always want to make your customer as happy as possible.

 

How do I stop returns?

 

The short answer is: you can’t stop all returns… but there are a few ways you can make returns a little less likely. As usual, it's all about customer happiness quotient.

 

  1. Better Photos
    This one is a no brainer, really. We even have a whole blog post on it, which cites product returns as one of the biggest reasons why decent photos are so important. Remember, quality images take a few factors: resolution, number of images and accurate representation will make it so what customers see is what they get.

  2. More detailed Product Descriptions
    Similar to the photos, a thorough product description can mean fewer surprises to the customer. In addition to being well-written and enticing, your product description should include everything you think the customer will need to know. This may include product dimensions, sizing charts, color details, or flavor highlights, depending on what you happen to be selling.

  3. Well-Chosen Product Details
    Of course, customers aren’t always so great at reading the fine print. On Amazon at least, product details appear closer to the image and are more likely to be seen. While your product details are mostly about selling your product, if there is something customers keep returning product over, consider finding a way to work it into the product details.  With one product in particular, we added a major detail in to the Amazon listing title itself in order to greatly reduce our return rates.

  4. Better Packaging
    It should always be a priority to have adequate packaging for your products. Even those customers who are too busy to return your item may be less likely to purchase from you in the future if their original order arrived damaged. 

  5. Charge for returns, even if not directly
    Alright, so this isn’t really a way to stop people from returning your items. Some sellers opt to charge customers outright… but keep in mind our above return policy stats, which may mean a consumer picks a product with free returns over yours. One option to charge for returns without charging, is to work return costs into your pricing, simply charging a bit more for your product. It isn’t ideal, but it may be necessary, especially for items that are trickier or more costly to return.

  6. Consider outsourcing your ecommerce
    If the above list feels like too much to handle on top of trying to market your product, sell in brick and mortar stores and manage your team, it may be worth looking into a service that sells for you. While we at Whitebox don’t advocate resellers, we do happen to run a business that will do a lot of the above legwork for you. And while we definitely can’t promise fewer returns, we can help you to improve your overall product presentation.

 

If you sell online, returns will always be a fact of life. They are always going to cost you (or your customer) something, and they will probably be something of a pain. Even if you use Fulfillment by Amazon, returns are still something you should work towards avoiding… since every return is, at the very least, a lost sale. If you’d like to chat with Whitebox about what we do for you, and how it might help you better manage your ecommerce, please reach out.