As a retailer, every sale you make is exciting – but similarly, every return that comes back can be deflating. You may find yourself wondering what went wrong, why your customers weren’t excited about your merchandise, or even what you could do differently to convince shoppers that, yes, your products are worth it.

Donkey carrying packages
Photo credit: Charlie Marusiak on Unsplash

To some extent, returns are just a part of retail, and this is especially true in the world of eCommerce. When customers can’t physically touch, see, or sample your products, you’re at a bit of a disadvantage, leading to items that inevitably make their way back to you. In fact, approximately one third of products ordered online are returned, and that number jumps to 50% for more expensive products. Think that seems reasonable? Think again – this figure is around five times the average return rate of brick and mortar stores.

Large items like furniture can be particularly frustrating to restock after a return. Many eCommerce retailers are using 3D tools to help people visualize how furniture will look and fit their space to try and pre-empt this.

Returns can cost you a lot of time and money, reducing revenue and increasing the man hours and expenses that go into fulfillment. These four tips can help you cut back on your eCommerce returns, keeping your merchandise from coming back – and your money in your pocket!

1. Improved Product Descriptions

How many times have you ordered something online, only to realize that sizing, color, make, or model didn’t align with what you thought you were buying? For most online shoppers, this is a semi-regular and extremely irritating occurrence, wasting time and creating resentment.

As a shop owner, this is bound to happen from time to time, particularly with clothing or other items that require a specific fit. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to reduce the likelihood of misunderstandings. Improving the quality of your product descriptions can go a long way in improving the user experience. This ensures that your customers know exactly what they’re ordering instead of making educated guesses. Put as much detail as possible on each product page, including size, shape, material, color, cleaning instructions, and images from all angles. While there’s no way to create the tactile experience of a standard store, it’s to your benefit to get as close as possible.

Large items like furniture can be particularly frustrating to restock after a return. Many eCommerce retailers are using 3D tools to help people visualize how furniture will look and fit their space to try and pre-empt this.

2. Adherence to Deadlines

As a customer, it’s frustrating when you need an item on a timeline and it doesn’t show up. Most consumers can make their peace with a few late shipments, particularly as companies are often at the mercy of USPS, UPS, or FedEx to get things where they need to be. However, when arrival dates significantly miss the mark or shipment after shipment is late, customers stop being so understanding – particularly when they’re ordering a product that must be received in time for a deadline, like accessories for a wedding or a present for a birthday party. When these deadlines can’t be met, merchandise will be more than likely returned.

Instead of advertising timelines you can’t meet, be realistic about your fulfillment capabilities and handle things in a way that ensures packages will show up when you say they will. If you need to adjust your daily schedule, extend shipping times by a day to better facilitate timely drop-offs to carriers, or hire an extra set of hands to help with packing boxes, do what it takes to carry your commitment to customer satisfaction through to the end. While fast shipping times matter, fulfilling the promises you make to your loyal shoppers matters more.

3. Order Fulfillment Accuracy

Some consumers may choose to keep an order that isn’t perfect, but few will keep an item that is not at all what they expected. Mistakes happen but sending an inaccurate item to a customer is a surefire way to see return rates soar, putting inventory back on your shelves and hurting your bottom line while also damaging your reputation. As such, the more accurate you can be in your fulfillment processes, the better.

You’ll want to make sure you’re updating your product information each time a new batch arrives from the supplier. The product from the factory might be a slightly different shade of red than the previous order and this could provoke a return from a customer. You will also want to run a tight ship (pun intended). Always send your customers a tracking number with their order. Once the product is out the door, they can track the package online. FedEx and UPS even allow for text updates. Let your customers know how simple and easy this is. Will returns still happen? Of course, there’s no satisfying everyone all the time – but you can significantly put a dent in returns.

4. Proper Packaging

Shipping isn’t perfect. Sometimes, boxes are dropped, kicked, squished, or otherwise compromised, leading to damaged products and unhappy customers. This can be particularly true when shipping things like glass or ceramic that are easier to break and harder to repair, creating unhappy shoppers and an expensive situation. Broken items are even more costly than standard returns because the product being returned to you cannot be re-sold without potentially extensive repairs. Further, you will likely need to send a second item to attempt to satisfy an upset customer, creating additional expenses.

Think this is inevitable in eCommerce? Well, it might be – you can’t change the mailman’s attention to detail, or lack thereof– but that’s not likely the case. The culprit behind broken or damaged merchandise often comes down to one simple factor: a poor choice of packaging. The right packaging can work wonders in protecting your merchandise, keeping breakables secure and stable throughout air or ground transportation. Don’t skimp on boxes, peanuts, or bubble wrap when the occasion calls for it; a little extra invested in packaging can mean a lot of money in prevented returns.

Running an eCommerce operation is never easy, but you’re better positioned for success when you aren’t actively stacking the cards in favor of your competitors. Returns are a natural part of business to some extent, but when you’re not optimizing your operations, you’re making things worse than they need to be. By taking advantage of beneficial strategies, like improving your approach to packaging, committing to shipping deadlines, enhancing product descriptions, and stopping fulfillment errors before they occur, you can do your part in reducing internal return rates.

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