How eCommerce Sites Can Reduce Their Rate of Returns—And Keep Their Customers Happy

Returns and exchanges. They can easily become the bane of your eCommerce site’s existence if you don’t get a good handle on them.

Why? Because they will cost you money. Lots of it.

Statista estimates that by 2020, US return delivery expenses will hit a staggering $550 billion, up from $381 billion in 2018.1 That’s a pretty serious drag on your bottom line.

And, unsurprisingly, most shoppers aren’t interested in bearing those costs. A January 2019 report from omnichannel solutions provider Radial found that more than half of shoppers (51%) would avoid making a purchase from an online store that didn’t offer free returns.2

There are a handful of commonly cited reasons for why shoppers return goods:

  • They got the wrong size, or the wrong product shipped
  • They received damaged or broken goods
  • The item failed to match the product description, or looked different in photos
  • Delivery took too long
  • They no longer want the item
  • The item failed to meet their expectations
  • The customer only wanted to use the product for a few days—a practice known as “wardrobing”
  • The customer bought multiple sizes of the same item, keeping one and returning the rest—a practice known as “fitting room”

In some instances—such as when a customer is wardrobing—there’s little that can be done to avoid a return. But those transactions tend to be in a small minority.

Return rates can also be dependent on your product category. According to Narvar, apparel purchases accounted for the highest percentage of returns in 2018, outpacing other verticals in retail like consumer electronics and footwear.3


So what’s an online store to do? There are dozens of companies that focus on optimizing the returns experience—from liquidators to third-party logistics (3PL). But for retailers, the challenge is in maintaining profitability: keeping and growing their customer base, and ideally avoiding returns in the first place. For most purchases, there are a few simple strategies that you can use to head off returns.

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How to Reduce Returns

1. Make sure your product listings are accurate and relevant. Your buyers want the skinny on your products. Ensure that you’re getting them the right stuff. Is the information up-to-date? Is the description clear and comprehensive? Analyze your Customer-Generated Content for common feedback to learn what might be missing or misleading on your product detail pages. Getting this part right can save your business a lot of effort—and cost—down the road.

2. Add product reviews. Product reviews are the secret sauce of your product detail pages. They can give your shoppers a wealth of information that might not naturally appear in your product listing. For example, TurnTo’s Ratings & Review product lets online stores add customized buttons and sliders that let shoppers give feedback on issues like size and fit.

3. Let your customers ask questions. Then answer them. A great way to avoid problems that can lead to returns is to let shoppers ask questions up front. At TurnTo we’ve found that certain shoppers are both willing and excited to share their knowledge about products on Community Q&A. These shoppers can be some of your strongest brand advocates. Tap into their enthusiasm. Some of our clients have also found success by assigning members of their customer service team to monitor inbound questions to ensure each one gets answered quickly. These “expert responses” also build a sense of community, helping to convert your browsers-with-questions into purchasers.

4. Up your product photos game. Do your product photos accurately reflect things like the color of an item? If not, consider ending the visual disconnect with new professional photos. Still, it can be tough for shoppers to get a sense of what an item might look like out in the real world, instead of in a photography studio. TurnTo’s Visual Reviews can help with that by letting you put shopper-submitted photos right on your product pages.

5. Learn from your mistakes. You should absolutely ask your customers why they returned an item. If delivery took too long or they received the wrong item, you might want to investigate your logistics arm to make sure things are running smoothly. If there’s a common complaint about a specific item, your merchandise and buyer teams are likely to be interested. The goal is to glean insights from your customers and use the resulting information to help reduce returns.


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1 Cost of return deliveries in the United States from 2016 to 2020; Statista, October 2019.

2 Cracking the Code to What Online Shoppers Value the Most; Radial, January 2019.

3 The State of Returns: What Today’s Shoppers Expect; Narvar, November 2018