Reducing product returns – prevention rather than cure

Product returns cost the UK retail industry a whopping £60bn every year. £20bn is derived from online sales alone. That’s a lot of money… and also a huge headache. For this reason, the industry has spent years looking into improving efficiencies around returns, cutting delivery costs, and simplifying the whole process for consumers.

The nature of online shopping has meant that the return rate for online purchases is around 30%. This much higher than 8.9% with in-store purchases. Some have accepted this as an unavoidable reality of ecommerce.

What’s the solution? 

Wouldn’t it be great, though, if the customer didn’t need to order 3 of each size in the first place? What if product information was always as it should be, and a shopper had the sizing details they needed? Why don’t retailers focus on how to reduce returns, rather than how to simply improve the process? 

Almost ¼ of all returns are as a result of the “product looking different” when received.  This issue can be directly addressed by improved product data. This will open up opportunity to reduce product returns by 25%.

Let’s start talking prevention rather than cure. Here are some key areas of product information to look at if you’re serious about reducing your rate of returns.

Accurate and comprehensive product information

Many ecommerce businesses often have very relaxed returns policies. Think free returns and convenient processes. This means customers are more likely to make unnecessary purchases because they can simply ‘send the other one back’. They often order multiple sizes like they would in a fitting room.

Giving the customer all the product data they need reduces uncertainty. It also increases the chance of a purchase. Sound sensible? Well it might surprise you how many retailers ‘fall at the first hurdle’. Getting the basics of your product data right is the first step to winning customer trust. Start with descriptions and colours and don’t forget:

  • Sizing is especially crucial for clothing. Give the customer confidence in their purchase with size guides and comparisons. 
  • Dimensions are especially important for furniture. Does it come already assembled in its final size? Or does it come packed in a smaller box that would help them in the lift or up the stairs? They want to know if the wardrobe will fit in the bedroom but also whether it will make it up the stairs!
  • Care instructions are often overlooked. Many people won’t buy an item if it isn’t easy-iron, for instance. Equally, if a garment is dry-clean only and the shopper only finds that out once it has arrived, a return is likely.

Informative imagery

We know the importance of high quality imagery is nothing new. Good product images mean online customers are more likely to get what they expected. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words! It’s imperative to include images but, crucially, to question if they are as helpful to the shopper as they could be. For example, are they providing an accurate portrayal of colour, perspective and proportion?

Think carefully about which images are important to display. If you don’t have interactive zoom, ensure there are close-up shots of the details listed in your product description.

Feed your shoppers imagination by providing lifestyle products in a contextual scene. Perhaps this could be in the garden or home. This reduces the chances of something being ‘not what I imagined.’, It may also provide bonus opportunities for upselling.

Utilise user generated content

Gathering feedback and displaying this confidently doesn’t only increase trust in your brand. It also allows consumers to gain insights from like-minded shoppers. This style of product data builds trust and allows them to make an informed decision based on real opinions. In other words, it stops them being reliant on your marketing copy.

To improve the effectiveness of customer reviews, you could consider contacting customers post-purchase. For example, you could ask them to review the items they ordered. Note of caution – just make sure the order has actually arrived! 

You’d be surprised by the number of retailers who make this mistake. However, if you ask verified purchasers to provide a review, it will yield a more impactful result. 

Think about the way your site visitors will see review content. Are the most helpful reviews displayed first? Sorting content by rating can help to create trust in a brand. This is because you are creating transparency and not hiding unfavourable reviews.

Informed staff = informed shoppers

Providing a personal touch point is a great way to build a relationship with a customer. Or on the flip side, a chance to spoil it by misinforming them before they make a purchase. Here are some steps to consider from this respect:

  • Provide your staff – in-store and online – with accurate product information. This will help to keep your customers well informed. Easy access to information will also make this process much more efficient. 
  • Having an automated customer service function is useful for new and existing customers. As an example, think about combining product data with LiveChat. This option can provide shoppers with the ability to ask about any aspects of the product they wish.

How does PIM help to reduce product returns?

In an ideal world people would always purchase the right product and never have to return it. But put yourself in the mind of the consumer. People usually return items because there was something they didn’t know. Whether it is the size or appearance of a product, you need to share that data with customers. 

A product information management (PIM) system can help you do this. PIM helps to reduce product returns in the following ways: 

Improve the quality of your data 

Customers want to know as much information about their products as possible. A PIM system can improve the quality of product data by giving companies control over how it’s viewed.  A good way to do this is to witness the lifecycle of a product from start to finish. This could involve setting certain requirements for each stage of the lifecycle. For example, a company could set up a rule for creating a detailed product description.

This step by step process helps to create more accurate product information. Greater accuracy leads to greater buying experiences for customers. Therefore, they are less likely to return products. 

Provide more information with digital assets 

Another way of using PIM to reduce product returns is through digital assets. This is where digital asset management (DAM) comes in handy. It allows for the handling of images, videos, animation etc. 

Companies can use DAM to enrich the buying experience for customers. Imagine if a fashion retailer wanted to provide more information about the size of a t-shirt. They could use DAM to upload a PDF document of a size chart into the PIM system. By having this extra information, customers will feel more confident in their purchase. This will stop them from returning a product.

Streamline internal product data management 

Correct product data is key to stopping product returns. Therefore, companies need to think about how they manage their product information internally. It’s no good having a breakdown of communication between different departments. 

To stop this from happening, brands can use PIM to create workflows between teams. As an example, a workflow could be set up between copywriters and photographers. Copywriters will be able to receive notifications about product descriptions. Photographers will gain insight into whatever images are necessary. 

As a result of these workflows, a company will be able to improve the accuracy of product data before it’s shared with consumers. For this reason, you’ll be able to lower product returns. 

Lower product returns abroad 

Product returns happen across the world. So, it’s important to consider how to enrich product data for different countries. With PIM, companies can localise and scope product information for a range of languages. 

Imagine a UK sports brand wanted to expand into Germany with new products. By using PIM, the brand can change descriptions into German or change the pricing into euros. 

By localising product data, companies will save on the cost of return from other countries. In addition, they will also deliver high-quality service to consumers in their native language. 

Learn how to decrease product returns with PIM 

Want to learn more about how our flexible PIM solution can help you decrease product returns? Our webinar will help you discover how to use product data in the right way. Watch it now.