We all know by now that returns are the new normal. But this begs the question—why are so many returns happening in the first place? Since the dawn of modern retail, customers have returned products for a wide variety of reasons. But the inherent uncertainty that comes with online orders only maximizes the risk for retailers. Understanding why a product is being returned and addressing the problem before it’s shipped back can help you develop a return solution and return policy that keep both your customers and your company’s bottom line happy.
Below, we highlight six common reasons for returns, why retailers should care about them, and how to get ahead of problems to mitigate the risk.
Whether it’s t-shirts, bathing suits, or living room furniture, size definitely matters to your buyers. In fact, 42% of consumers made their last return due to size and fit issues, according to our 2021 State of Returns Report. It’s important to give as much information on your product description pages (PDPs) as possible so your customers feel confident about choosing the right fit.
Sizing inaccuracies are a pain for buyers—they have to fill out paperwork, locate a drop-off, and wait even longer to get their hands on the desired item. By making it easy to exchange online, or offering the option to bring unwanted items back to a physical store, you won’t lose out on the sale and can even gain opportunities to upsell.
At a minimum, the sizing information shared on your PDPs should include:
Universal Standard’s ‘Find My Size’ page is a good example of how brands can assist customers in selecting the right size by demonstrating how to take good measurements.
Interactive tools can also be helpful when it comes to sizing. For example, Uniqlo’s MySize Assist tool lets customers input their measurements to view recommended sizes based on the measurements of previous buyers.
That said, no matter how much effort you put into describing your items’ sizing, you may still need to contend with an uptick in bracketing, when customers buy multiple versions of an item, try them at home, and then return those that don’t work.
Our 2021 report found that 58% of consumers engage in bracketing, intentionally buying more goods than they intend to keep.
Bracketing can be challenging for retailers, as it ties up inventory and increases both return costs and labor requirements. The good news, however, is that our 2020 report found that 29% of surveyed consumers say they “only bracket when sizing or other options aren’t clear.” Increasing clarity on your PDPs may reduce returns due to bracketing among these shoppers.
Another way to ease the pain of wrong-size returns is to implement an online returns portal that requires customers to input reasons. This can help you identify discrepancies early, then quickly update product information to help prevent more returns down the line.
Beyond size, there are a million and one ways that a product can end up being different than expected. Color, pattern, material, scent, taste, durability—these are just a few examples of how a product might be off from a photo or online description.
Again, for retailers who want to inspire consumer loyalty, it’s important to nip any inaccuracies in the bud. The more misleading your product information, the less your customers will trust what you tell them. And that means they’ll be less likely to buy anything from your brand in the future. It’s important to collect return reasons from unsatisfied customers upfront so that you can recognize repeat complaints and update product descriptions as soon as possible.
It’s a retailer’s worst nightmare—you attract a new buyer to your brand, get them excited about your merchandise, inspire them to make an online purchase...and then lose them as a potential lifelong customer because of damaged goods.
Damages are especially frustrating because they often happen while the package is on its way to the customer. It’s out of your control, and it can cost you exponentially once you account for the broken merchandise, the replacement merchandise, and any loyalty lost along the way.
One option to consider is allowing the customer to keep the item while sending a replacement or refunding their money. If the item is not too damaged, the customer may still find use for it. As a retailer, you benefit from not having to pay more for shipping fees. Plus, it can be more sustainable for the customer to keep it, rather than sending the item back to a warehouse for disposal. In fact, 87% of consumers said an offer to keep an item they requested to return made them more likely to shop with that retailer again.
As with most other issues, if an item is severely damaged, getting ahead of the problem can help you save the day. Customers love self-service platforms and transparent retailers—just look at Amazon. Give your buyers an easy way to report damages online instead of making them sit on hold with your customer care call center, and they’ll appreciate (and remember) the convenience. This also opens a door for you to acknowledge the mishap straight away, whether in the form of a simple “We’re so sorry!” email, a rushed replacement, or a coupon to use towards future purchases.
Narvar research found that shipping delays became a common occurrence during the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, with average times between order and handoff more than doubling from 1.9 days in February to 4.3 days in April.
Ongoing supply chain issues mean that late deliveries aren’t yet a thing of the past. But while you can’t always control shipping timelines, you can mitigate customer frustration with increased communication in some cases.
Our 2020 State of Returns report found that, although 36% of consumers surveyed had experienced significant shipping delays, only 19% felt they were well-informed by retailers about the status of their deliveries. Increasing the number and quality of customer shipping notifications—which can be done automatically with a solution like Narvar—can ease the frustration of not knowing an order’s status, not to mention reduce call volume to your customer service team.
Listen—mix-ups happen. Sometimes, wires get crossed and the wrong thing ends up in the box. But it’s what you do after a mix-up to make things right for your customer that really counts.
How seamless is it for your customers to send the wrong items back? Do you make it easy for them to tell you about the mistake online, early and without hassle, so that you can get the correct order to them in a timely, efficient manner? By simplifying the returns and re-delivery experience for consumers frustrated by mishaps, you’ll win points in the long run by inspiring trust and repeat purchases.
This reason for return is one of the hardest to address. There’s nothing wrong with your item, it fits fine, and it was delivered on-time. Your customer just doesn’t feel it’s worth the money.
Whether or not you make changes based on this return reason will likely depend on the frequency with which you hear it. An occasional return due to poor value may be unavoidable. But if you receive it on a regular basis, it may be time to re-evaluate either your pricing strategy or the marketing language you’re using to describe the product’s value.
Consumers can be fickle beasts. Your product page can be 100% accurate, you can do everything you can to ensure a positive experience, and the delivery can arrive as expected. But that doesn’t mean that some customers might not turn around at the end of the day and say, “Meh. Turns out this isn’t for me.”
You may not be able to prevent this from happening, but you can take steps to ensure it won’t cause much trouble for you or your customer. Implement an online returns initiation process to gather feedback about why a customer found a product undesirable. This also lets you identify returns of resalable items before they’re sent back, and optimize their routes back to a fulfillment center or store. And more importantly, you’ll instill confidence in that customer to buy from you again in the future.
Returns are just part and parcel of the world of ecommerce sales. But by safeguarding against the risks that go along with these seven common return reasons, retailers can save on resources and inspire lifelong customer appreciation and loyalty.
To learn more about current return trends and evolving consumer behaviors, download our 2021 State of Returns report.
Heather is Senior Content Marketing Manager at Narvar and has been working in the SF tech world for over 6 years. She has a bachelor's degree from CSU Long Beach and an MFA in writing from California College of the Arts.