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GUEST COMMENT How to minimise returns

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Returns are a hot topic. eBay came under fire recently from sellers who claim the site’s “customer is always right” policies were coming close to putting them out of business. Then research by DynamicAction showed sellers are increasingly offering free shipping in a bid to up their delivery offering but then, in fact, seeing shoppers returning more.

For online retailers, returns can be a fact of life. They’re annoying, expensive and costly. But it’s something all online retailers have to deal with, and it’s unfortunately just a part of e-commerce business that must be anticipated. Without the ability to physically look, touch or try on the product in person, online shoppers must put their trust in the merchant to meet their expectations. However, these expectations aren’t always met, which is why at least 30% of all products purchased online are returned.

If you receive a lot of unexpected returns that are proving detrimental to your business, all hope is not lost. While you’ll never be returns free, there are numerous ways to minimise the number you have to process.


All online retailers know about the need for accurate, high-quality product images, because they’re paramount to every aspect of your business. If you have poor product images, you run the risk of misleading your customers, and they might get a nasty shock when the product arrives at their door.

Some basics on improving your product images are:

  • Make sure your photos are high-quality: If your photos are fuzzy and unclear, your customers won’t be able to see your products properly.
  • Take photos from multiple angles: Re-create the experience a shopper has in store when they can physically look at all angles of a product.
  • Avoid over-editing the images: While it’s recommended to edit your product images, you want to avoid overdoing it. If you alter the colours too much or make too many unnecessary changes then you’re not representing a true depiction of the product.
  • Have images for different variants: If you have different variants of your product, for example, if your product comes in different colours, then make sure to include images for each colourway.
  • Use models: If you sell apparel or anything wearable, use models to give a clearer indication as to what the product will look like on.


You want your product descriptions to be so clear that your customers feel confident, and are left with no unanswered questions. This includes listing information about dimensions, weight, material, fit, or any other specifications relevant to your product.  You are the retailer. It’s your job to explain the product in your own voice, so don’t use manufacturer or supplier descriptions. Write them yourself and make them as clear as possible.


The information you include in your product descriptions will depend entirely on what you’re selling. If you run a clothing business, it’s essential you make the sizing as clear as possible by listing the height of the model (if you use model imagery – you definitely should), and the size they’re wearing in the image.

Different retailers use different sizing for apparel. There’s no standardised sizing, so what might be a size 10 in one shop could equate to a size 12 in another. Your customers don’t have the chance to try out the different sizes when ordering online, so this is why it’s extremely important to provide a size chart within your product descriptions. If you offer S, M, L, make it clear what each size equates to in UK sizing and European sizing in your size chart, and offer the measurements for each size.


One of the most common causes of returned goods is actually one of the easiest to prevent. Customers have no choice but to send products back when they receive an incorrect item; whether that’s the wrong size, the wrong colour, or the wrong item entirely.

Avoid delivering the wrong item by triple-checking your packages before you send them out. You’d be surprised by how many online retailers don’t take the time to check the products or ensure they’ve printed the correct postage label before sending them to the customer.


Minimise customer disappointment by making sure your products are delivered on time. Delivering an item later than expected can cause frustration for your customers, and they will view your service as being poor.

Shoppers may order products for specific moments in time. For example, they may want to give the product as a gift or wear the product to a specific event. If your customer wanted the product for a specific moment in time and you missed the date, they’re probably going to shop elsewhere and return your product.


There’s nothing more frustrating than receiving a package with damaged goods inside. Leaking containers, smashed pottery, and bent artwork are just some of the issues shoppers encounter when ordering online.

Unfortunately, if you sell delicate or fragile goods, there’ll always be a chance they get damaged in transit – particularly as this part of the process is out of your control.

However, you cannot underestimate the importance of using the right packaging. If you find a lot of your customers complaining about damaged goods, you know it’s time to re-think your packaging. Replacing damaged goods is costly, so if you can minimise it, you’re saving your business a lot of money.

The importance of checking products before they’re sent can’t be stressed enough. There may be some damage to the product that occurred during manufacture, or shipping that you can spot before it’s too late.


It should go without saying, product quality should always be reflected in the price. If your customer perceives your product to be poor value for money, you’re likely to receive a higher return rate. If you manufacture your product with low-quality, cheap materials but your price point is ridiculously high, your customers are going to feel like they’ve been deceived and will send the item straight back.  So price fairly.


Take the time to ask your customers why they’re returning your products, as this can help you to uncover patterns and discover why certain products are being returned frequently. If you see patterns, you know there’s something not quite right and you should probably look to act on the feedback you’ve been provided with.

You can gather this information by including a feedback form on your returns note, or by asking them to send their feedback via email.


As discussed earlier, some returns are inevitable, particularly during busy periods of the year such as Black Friday and Christmas. Unfortunately, not much can be done to prevent these types of returns. Some people enjoy window shopping online, some order multiple sizes to try on, and others even try their luck by using an item before sending it back. However, you can build customer returns into your business model by providing excellent customer service and offering free returns if possible.

If you run a dropshipping business some factors in this article are out of your hands. However, you can still work on ensuring your product images, product descriptions and pricing are up to scratch, to ensure you give all of the necessary information, setting your customers’ expectations from the start.

Following the tips above can help you try to minimise returns for your online shop as much as possible so that you can keep your costs down, and avoid wasting unnecessary time.

After all, the biggest cost to your e-commerce business is a lost sale and a dissatisfied customer.

Author: Rachel Smith, digital marketing executive, of

Image credit: Fotolia

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