Turning Ecommerce Returns Into a Net Positive

ecommerce returns keyboard feature

The growth of ecommerce means more people purchase items without seeing or touching them in person. It stands to reason, as you sell more products to a larger audience, you’ll begin see more ecommerce returns.

Why do consumers make ecommerce returns? According to 1WorldSync research, six out of 10 online shoppers blame inaccurate, misleading or poor product information, including everything from imagery and descriptions to product specs and FAQs. Because ecommerce returns are a chore for consumers, these product disappointments sour the shopping experience and deter them from doing repeat business.

While not ideal, ecommerce returns are an inevitable part of business. But your job is to see them as an opportunity to turn problems into positive brand experiences. And the gains from retaining a customer for life far outweigh the cost of a single refund.

The Importance of Accurate Product Content

To limit ecommerce returns, you need to inform customers with rich product content at every possible touchpoint. Those omnichannel touchpoints also need up-to-date, consistent and expansive product details that don’t fluctuate across platforms.

Product content shouldn’t just convert more buyers. It also needs to meet consumer expectations by including:

  • Photos that capture all angles and features: Shoppers want (and need) accurate, accessible and transparent product images. After all, the same research found 38% of returns result from product photography that does not match the product that arrived. Brands should use spin imagery to give a complete picture of their products, so there are no surprises when they open the box.
  • Relevant and honest descriptions: Ecommerce shoppers rely on brands to provide product information that helps them make a confident, informed purchase decision. But misleading or inaccurate product descriptions and features lead to 34% of ecommerce returns. Sparse product details can also lead to disappointment or unmet expectations.
  • Accurate data: Your data must truthfully and consistently represent your products, including inventory availability. Having a powerful product information management (PIM) system keeps product data and descriptions consistent across channels, regardless of inventory volume or markets.

Tips to Consider When Determining a Returns Policy

Quality content can minimize ecommerce returns and increase customer satisfaction. However, returns will persist as long as consumers have the option. You need to consider these tips when determining a return policy that works for you and your customers:

Enforce a “Keep it” Return Policy

“Keep it” return policies can reduce your costs. When a customer receives a refund and keeps an item, you eliminate shipping costs, which is particularly helpful for items you can’t resell or bulky items with expensive shipping. Typically, retailers discount returned items anyway, so the money they make on an inexpensive return is minute and sometimes not worth the associated costs.

A “keep it” returns policy also helps build relationships and attracts new shoppers. Nearly nine in 10 consumers are more likely to shop online if they don’t have to deal with returns.

Companies with “keep it” return policies must take precautions to ensure they don’t become victims of fraud. If customers become aware of the policy, they could abuse it by returning items just to receive free merchandise.

Cover the Cost of Return Shipping

You can budget to cover return shipping costs. A free return shipping policy guarantees customers aren’t punished for receiving a damaged product or one that doesn’t fit its online imagery. Companies with this policy acknowledge that ecommerce shopping is often difficult, demonstrating you will support them through any issues. This retailer responsibility could be a determining factor whether someone shop your brand in the first place.

While manageable during most of the year, consider the financial impact of this policy during the peak holiday return season. Not only do ecommerce returns happen more frequently during and after the holidays, but the major parcel carriers add peak season surcharges on top of their base rates. If you have physical stores, you can combat this added expense by offering in-person returns as well.

Lengthen Return Windows

While most retailers offer a 30-day return window, lengthening it to 60 or 90 days has benefits. Doing this demonstrates you value customers’ loyalty and want them to have as much time as needed to pick the right product. This deadline flexibility also reduces return rates, as the longer shoppers have a product in their possession, the more attached to it they become.

Embracing a Mindset Shift

Shoppers change their minds about what they want, so you need to have a policy in place to make the returns process as smooth as possible. In fact, 75% of retailers believe returns are a necessary evil.

Instead of fearing the associated costs and labor, embrace a mindset shift to use ecommerce returns as opportunities for meaningful and positive customer interactions. Brands that create a clear and considerate returns policy — and do what they can to improve product content — build a reputation of trust that retains customers and inspires new ones.

TJ Waldorf is VP of Marketing for 1WorldSync