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The Art of Returns: A Guide for Online Retailers for Hassle Free Management in 2024

For every online store, the occurrence of making a sale is as routine as dealing with product returns—a familiar yet inevitably frustrating situation. While eliminating all returns may not be feasible, reducing them is certainly within reach.

Understanding the top reasons consumers return products is essential, and statistics from Loop’s research shed light on common issues:

  • Damage or Defects (81%): Emphasizing the need for improved quality control.
  • Fit Issues (75%): Underscoring the importance of accurate size charts.
  • Description Inaccuracies (56%): Indicating a requirement for clearer product information.
  • Change of Mind (33%): Reflecting evolving customer preferences.
  • Comparative Returns (14%): Customers returning extra items or sizes for comparison.
  • Late Deliveries (11%): Highlighting the value of reliable shipping.

Strategies to Reduce Product Returns:

1. Enhance Product Visuals and Descriptions for Clarity

Creating an optimal online shopping experience begins with meticulously curated product listings that include accurate details and high-quality images. This foundational step empowers customers to make well-informed decisions right from the outset. Here are specific strategies to achieve this:

  • Capture Multiple Angles: Offer customers with a comprehensive view by photographing each product from at least three different angles (front, side, back). For example, showcasing shoes from above, the side, and the bottom offers a detailed look at the tread.
  • Show the Product in Use: Whenever possible, present the product in its intended environment or, for clothing items, on a model. This approach adds context, giving customers a sense of scale and fit that static images may not convey effectively.
  • Zoom and Detail Shots: Enhance the shopping experience by incorporating a zoom feature and capturing close-up shots of crucial features. This is especially important for items with intricate textures, allowing customers to inspect the material closely.
  • Comprehensive Descriptions: Craft detailed product descriptions that cover all aspects, including:
    • 🟡 Key Features: Highlight the main benefits and unique selling points that set the product apart.
    • 🟡 Specifications: Provide essential information such as size, material, and technical details.
    • 🟡 Use and Care: Offer guidance on how to use and maintain the product, contributing to customer satisfaction and product longevity.
    • 🟡 Unique Selling Points: Emphasize any special features or exclusive qualities that make the product stand out.
    • 🟡 Care Instructions: Clearly explain how customers can clean and care for the product to ensure its durability.

Example from Bellroy: Bellroy exemplifies these principles with a product page featuring 10 different images, complemented by a video. The comprehensive explanations on the page are further supported by a “learn more” tab, directing visitors to detailed pages. The features section provides an in-depth overview, offering customers a thorough understanding of the product.


2. Provide Detailed Size Guides to Minimize Fit-Related Returns

Given that 75% of returns stem from improper fit offering comprehensive size guides and fit prediction tools is crucial. Here’s a guide on how to effectively implement detailed size guides to reduce ecommerce returns:

  • Take Accurate Measurements: Measure key dimensions for each product, including chest, waist, and length for clothing and insole length and width for shoes.
  • Create Clear Size Charts: Design size charts that clearly list sizes alongside corresponding measurements. Ensure these charts are easy to read and understand.
  • Show How to Measure: Provide simple illustrations or photos demonstrating how customers should measure themselves or the item they are sizing.
  • Use Model Sizes as a Reference: Display the size worn by the model along with their measurements, offering customers a practical real-life size reference.
  • Update Regularly: Keep the size guide current by incorporating feedback from customer reviews and returns data.

Example from Thinx: Thinx sets a notable example by incorporating detailed size charts to minimize returns. These charts are designed to be clear and user-friendly, addressing the fit-related concerns that contribute significantly to returns. For merchants using Shopify, a blog on “How to Add a Size Chart in Shopify with 5 Different Methods” is also recommended for further guidance.


Deep dive into ecommerce analytics here.

3. Utilize User-Generated Content (UGC) to Set Accurate Expectations

Harnessing the power of User-Generated Content on the product pages can significantly impact customer expectations, helping to reduce returns. By incorporating photos, videos, and comments from actual customers, you provide potential buyers with authentic insights. In 2023, Power Reviews reported that 69% of consumers were less likely to return items if they saw customer videos and photos beforehand.

Key Strategies:

  • Show Customer Photos and Videos: Integrate real customer photos and videos onto your product pages. Rhode’s website is an excellent example, showcasing user-generated content effectively.
  • Make Adding Reviews Easy: Simplify the process for customers to write and read reviews. Hydrant’s website provides a practical example of how to display user-generated content seamlessly.
  • Have a Q&A Section: Include a dedicated Q&A section on product pages, allowing customers to ask and find answers to questions. HELM’s website illustrates how this feature can enhance customer confidence.
  • Utilize UGC Platforms: Consider incorporating UGC platforms that provide tools to collect, manage, and display content authentically. This streamlines the process of gathering and showcasing UGC on your website.

4. Implement 3D and Augmented Reality (AR) Features for a Realistic Product View

Enhancing customer experience through 3D and Augmented Reality (AR) features can significantly reduce returns by providing a more accurate representation of your products. Follow these steps to implement these features:

  • Select an AR Service: Choose a service like Shopify AR or WooCommerce with built-in AR capabilities or a standalone AR solution like Augment.
  • Create 3D Models: Utilize 3D modeling software or hire professionals to create accurate 3D models of your products.
  • Integrate with Your Website: Add the AR feature to product pages seamlessly. NYX and Moscot demonstrate effective AR features with ‘Virtual Try-On’ buttons, offering users a realistic preview of products.
nyx cosmetics

5. Optimize Order Fulfillment Accuracy to Avoid Wrong Deliveries

Reducing fulfillment errors is crucial to ensuring customers receive the right products. Implement the following strategies to optimize order fulfillment accuracy:

  • Implement a Barcode System: Utilize barcode scanning at multiple stages to ensure correct item processing.
  • Use Fulfillment Software: Integrate software like ShipBob or Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) for automated order processing and reduced manual errors.
  • Quality Checks: Introduce a two-person check system to verify orders against packing slips.
  • Real-Time Inventory Updates: Keep stock levels updated in real-time to prevent overselling and sending incorrect items.
  • Packaging Checklists: Provide simple checklists for packers to match items with order invoices.

Amazon employs similar strategies, utilizing barcode systems, automated robotics, real-time inventory tracking, and machine learning integration to enhance order fulfillment accuracy.


6. Set Realistic Delivery Expectations and Communicate Transparently

Establishing realistic delivery expectations is crucial, with over 85% of customers expecting estimated delivery dates at checkout. Implement the following strategies:

  • Provide Transparent Tracking: Offer accurate and transparent tracking systems using tools like AfterShip or ShipStation.
  • Use Website Communication: Explain the order handling process on your website, from placement to expected delivery.
  • Automate Tracking Updates: Set up automated systems to send customers tracking information via email or SMS, allowing them to monitor delivery status. Cult Beauty provides an accessible “track order” option and order tracking to meet customer expectations.This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 65e993ee69102fca48152d9f_cult-beauty-track-order-feature-on-their-website-1024x583.jpg

7. Encourage Product Exchanges Over Returns

Moving on to reducing product return rates, a clear and customer-friendly return policy is essential. Here’s a step-by-step guide on crafting and effectively communicating such a policy:

  1. Specify Return Window: Clearly state the time frame for eligible returns, such as “30 days post-purchase.” An example of this is the return policy of REI, which specifies a generous window for returns, providing customers ample time to assess their purchases.
  2. List Return Conditions: Clarify acceptable return conditions, specifying requirements like items being new, unused, and in their original packaging. Apple, for instance, is known for its stringent return conditions, ensuring that products are returned in pristine condition.
  3. Simplify Return Steps: Provide an easy-to-follow return process, such as filling out an online return form and printing a prepaid mailing label. Online retailers like ASOS simplify the return process by offering an intuitive online form and easy-to-print return labels.
  4. Offer Multiple Return Options: Include various return methods, such as in-store returns, mail-ins, or local drop-off points. Walmart, for example, offers a variety of return options, giving customers flexibility in how they choose to return products.
  5. Detail Refund Process: Clearly explain refund methods and timelines, for example, “Refunds processed within 5-7 business days to the original payment method.” Nordstrom is known for its transparent refund process, providing customers with clear expectations on when they can expect their refunds.
  6. Clarify Exceptions: Note any special cases, like “Sale items eligible only for store credit.” Best Buy, for instance, is transparent about exceptions to their return policy, ensuring customers are aware of any unique conditions.
  7. Accessibility of Policy: Ensure the return policy is easily accessible, with a link in the website footer and inclusion in packaging materials. Target, for example, prominently displays its return policy on its website, making it easily accessible to customers.

8. Create Educational Content for Product Usage and Care

Providing comprehensive information on product usage and care minimizes returns due to misuse or misunderstanding. Implement this by:

  • Guides and Manuals: Develop detailed guides covering setup, usage, and maintenance with simple language and visual aids.
  • Video Tutorials: Produce high-quality videos demonstrating product setup, features, usage, and care.
  • Workshops/Webinars: Conduct interactive sessions covering in-depth product usage, care tips, and live Q&A.

Example: Rare Beauty’s “how to use” button on product pages offers a concise and understandable guide.

9. Combine Real-Time Support During Purchase

Incorporating real-time support during the purchase process enhances the customer experience. Implement these measures:

  • Implement Live Chat Support: Integrate robust live chat support services like LiveChatAI for immediate assistance.
  • Incorporate Social Media Messaging: Engage with customers in real-time through platforms like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp Business, or Twitter Direct Messages.

10. Collect Customer Feedback to Identify and Address Common Return Reasons

Gathering customer feedback is vital for identifying and addressing common return reasons. Follow these steps:

  • Survey Customers Post-Purchase: Send out surveys after purchases to gather insights on customer experiences and any encountered issues.
  • Incorporate Feedback Channels: Provide accessible channels like feedback forms or contact forms on your website.
  • Address Common Issues Proactively: Take proactive steps to address common return reasons based on customer feedback, ensuring continuous improvement and enhanced customer satisfaction.

Wrap Up

In conclusion, we’ve delved into practical strategies to help online stores minimize returns and enhance the overall shopping experience. From ensuring accurate product descriptions with clear visuals to providing sizing guides for confident choices, each approach aims to make online shopping more reliable.

Beyond merely reducing return numbers, the focus is on cultivating trust with customers, ensuring their shopping journey is as seamless as possible. When returns do occur, a straightforward and customer-friendly process can transform a potentially negative encounter into a positive one, fostering customer loyalty and encouraging repeat business.

Best Returns Management Tools for Ecommerce:

Dealing with returns efficiently is crucial for ecommerce success. Here are some recommended returns management tools tailored for different platforms:

For Shopify Stores:

  • AfterShip: Offers seamless integration and customizable return workflows, providing a user-friendly experience for both merchants and customers.

For Amazon Sellers:

  • SellerCloud: Ideal for managing returns on Amazon, it provides comprehensive inventory and order management features to streamline the process.

For WooCommerce Websites:

  • WooCommerce Returns and Warranty Requests: Integrates seamlessly within the WooCommerce platform, offering a straightforward returns management solution.

For eBay Sellers:

  • 3Dsellers: Integrates with eBay to streamline returns processing and automate communication with buyers, enhancing efficiency for eBay sellers.

For Multi-Channel Sellers:

  • ShipStation: Suitable for managing returns across multiple sales channels, it offers centralized order processing and shipping label generation.

For In-Store Returns:

  • Happy Returns: Provides a streamlined return process for online purchases, including in-person return options at select physical locations, enhancing convenience for customers.

For Sustainable Brands:

  • Loop: Focuses on reducing waste by offering a circular returns process, making it an excellent choice for sustainable brands aiming to minimize environmental impact.

FAQs on Return Rate:

How to Calculate the Product Return Rate? 

To calculate your ecommerce return rate, divide the number of items returned by the total number of items sold within a specific period, then multiply by 100 to get a percentage. For example, if you sold 1,000 items and 50 were returned, your return rate would be (50/1000) * 100 = 5%.

What is a Good Product Return Rate in Ecommerce? 

In ecommerce, a good product return rate typically falls in the range of 5% to 10%, considered acceptable for most online retailers and often used as a benchmark for assessing return performance. However, factors such as industry, product category, and business model can influence return rates.

How to Prevent Return Fraud? 

Preventing return fraud is crucial for ecommerce businesses. Strategies include setting clear return policies, checking IDs or proof of purchase, using return authorization numbers, inspecting returns closely, monitoring unusual return patterns, employing fraud detection tools, training staff to identify potential fraud, and using secure payment methods. These measures collectively help safeguard the integrity of the business and protect against fraudulent returns.

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