Consumers plan to shop more online using desktops/laptops, smartphones, and tablets than in store this year, which is great news if you’re an eTailer. But here’s a staggering statistic on product returns: on average, 30% of items purchased online will be returned - that’s almost 1 in 3 products! That’s massive chunk of the $350 billion in online retail sales expected by the end of 2016.
According to a commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of UPS, 23% of returns occur because the customer was shipped the wrong item, 22% because the item received was not as portrayed online, and 23% because the item received was damaged.
Fortunately, mis-ships, misrepresented items, and damaged goods are (mostly) preventable. In this article, I’ve gathered a list of changes that you can begin making to reduce your product returns as much as possible.
1 | Start with Quality Control to Reduce Product Returns
Mis-ships happen when the wrong item gets shipped to a customer. When I owned my online shop, I was a solopreneur. That meant that I was my own Quality Inspector. Before I shipped any order, I compared it to the receipt checking each item’s title and description, comparing the photos to the items I’d packed, and recounting my quantities. In 3 years, I never had a single mis-ship, but this process was time-consuming and unscalable.
If you’re a larger business it’s impossible to rely on human beings to catch every error before it goes out. You need a solution that automates all of the above.
The good news is that this technology exists, and requires minimal effort on your part. A warehouse management system with a quality control feature is the best way to eliminate product returns due to mis-ships. My favorite option is, of course, SkuVault. SkuVault’s Quality Control feature allows your quality control guy or gal to scan each item as it’s dropped off by your pickers to inspect it for accuracy. They even get a picture of the item on their screen to make sure it’s the right item, so you can say goodbye to mis-ships.
Another benefit of having a quality control person is that she can inspect the goods before they go out. This prevents product returns due to damaged goods and unhappy customers, saving you time, money, and headache in a matter of seconds!
2 | Represent Products Accurately
Now, that we’ve gotten the easy stuff out of the way, let’s talk about some changes that might be a little bit more labor-intensive and time-consuming, but will pay off big time by reducing product returns in the long run. Misrepresented products account for a huge percentage of product returns, so it’s fair to say that to prevent product returns you need to represent your items accurately. With its many advantages, online sales also have one big disadvantage in that customers can’t touch the products. So, accurately representing your products should go beyond snapping some quick pictures and scribbling down a description.
Focus on Photos to Reduce Product Returns
It’s safe to assume that if you’re selling online that unless you’re a wholesaler that you probably already have some sort of picture representing your items. For some of you, this may feel like a bigger feat than others. I know I always hated shooting photos of my products, but the unfortunate thing is that not any ol’ photo will cut it.
Show Colors Accurately
I once purchased a set of tiny gold forks, yes tiny gold forks, from eBay only to find that they were silver when I received them! It turns out that the green piece of fabric that the seller had laid them on for their product photo was reflecting onto the forks and making them look gold. I contacted the seller and she immediately saw what I meant and offered to return them.
The moral of the story is that people (including myself) don’t read when they’re buying things and that it’s so important that your pictures are lit correctly and that color shown on screen accurately represents the color that the product is in real life.
Use High-Res Photos
Additionally, texture is hard to represent online. Although your customers can’t actually feel the product, high-resolution photographs and closeups of textures will make a world of difference in that they can convey texture and detail.
Show the Product from Multiple Angles
Again, with customers not being able to pick up a product it can be difficult to get an idea of its shape and dimensions. Showing the product from multiple angles can help a customer more accurately judge if something will be a good fit before it arrives on their doorstep.
Don’t Combine Photos
I recently saw a fellow seller complain in one of my seller groups that she had received a product return on an item because the customer thought they were getting six items instead of 3. After much discussion in the group, she slowly revealed that although her product photo showed 6 distinct items, that the picture was really just the same item sold in a quantity of 3 shown from 2 angles. This information was immediately obvious to her because she was familiar with her products, but it was not at all obvious to those of us who weren’t. When she realized this, she immediately edited the photo to be 2 different images and was able to prevent further confusion.
If All Else Fails Hire a Photographer
If you’re like my mom, and you only take pictures with your iPad while in motion, or you're just not getting the quality of photographs you need, you should hire a professional photographer. If your operation isn’t big enough to take on an in-house photographer, there are plenty of freelance commercial product photographers and companies that do product photography.
Assume that most people will get all of their information about your products from your photos and make a judgment in a matter of seconds. Considering the time that you spend on taking measurements and writing accurate descriptions, it can feel unjust. It is, but rather than dwell on it, work with that information and use it to your advantage!
3 | Represent Sizing Correctly
Quality control and accurate listings with accurate photographs are the main things that you can do to prevent the 3 main reasons for product returns, but if you can take it a step further, there are some amazing tools to get those numbers down even further.
Use Sizing Software to Reduce Product Returns
VirtuSize, TrueFit, and Shoefitr are all incredible services that allow your customers to figure out how their clothes and shoes will fit before they get them.
VirtuSize lets shoppers compare product fit to items they’ve previously purchased. Shoppers also have the option of measuring one of their favorite items that they own to compare it to other items that they’re considering purchasing.
TrueFit provides information about how products will fit to encourage consumers to buy more, and to prevent product returns. It does this by using a size Genome - what it calls, “the largest set of connected fit and style data in the world,” in conjunction with its Confidence Engine™, which helps your customers find the right sizes.
Use Sizing Charts
Sizing software is very exciting, but if you're just not there yet there are still options! One of the most basic, but helpful things that you can do is to post sizing charts for your apparel that is actually tailored to each brand that you carry.
So there you have it! Quality control, great product photos, and sizing tools are the basic things that you can do to make shopping online a better experience for your customers, which will result in fewer product returns for you. You can take action today by deciding which of these 3 tips you will implement first, and make a plan to make it happen. Then, leave a comment a below to let us know what you're doing to reduce product returns!