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Opinion: Consumers think about returns during every stage of their shopping journey; retailers should too


Consumers think about returns during every stage of their shopping journey but do the retailers that they buy from do the same, asks Rick Kirk, sales director at B2C Europe. He says retailers could do more to prevent them.
Returns; it’s one word that retailers hate to hear. But unfortunately, it is an issue that all have to contend with, and usually on a daily basis.

In order to reduce the rate of returns, retailers must first understand consumers’ needs. Our own research into European consumers online shopping habits found that 54% of respondents think about returning an item before they have even purchased it. Retailers need to ask not only why an order was returned, but also what are the factors during the shopping experience that spark the possibility of a return? And, what solutions are available to satisfy consumer needs and reduce returns?

Customer endorsements

Offering customers the opportunity to leave product reviews provides reassurance to other browsers.

One of the big reasons why a lot of consumers make a return, especially in the fashion industry which sees a 40% returns rate, is because the item is not what they expected. Maybe the material isn’t right or the colour is all wrong, but these are things the customer won’t know until they have the physical product.

Customer reviews are a great way to overcome the lack of “try before you buy” in ecommerce. They offer an unbiased and honest insight into the quality of specific products. In fact, product reviews are almost 12 times more trusted than descriptions that come from manufacturers.

Product visuals

Sometimes product images do not accurately represent the item.

Product videos are a great addition to images and text in selling a product. The consumer will see a different perspective of the product and it will better help inform their purchase decision. ASOS is just one online retailer that has used product videos really well. Each video is very simple, and only lasts a few seconds, but adds value to the text and images. This ultimately will help to reduce returns.

Where product videos might not always be relevant, another solution is to offer 360 views that enable the user to turn and view the product from different angles. This works well for technology such as digital cameras and smartphones where the user might want to look at the placement of power points and buttons.

Sizing guidelines

When buying fashion products online, it is really difficult for the customer to know for sure if the item will fit correctly. I have heard cases from consumers buying two or even three versions of the same item but in different sizes. Making a return inevitable.

In this case it’s essential to offer clear and easy to read sizing information. If you are selling into international markets, you must also make sure that you display the relevant sizing information; the EU and US use different metrics to the UK.

In the last year or so we have seen the emergence of new technologies that make it even easier for consumers to buy the right products. Virtusize is just one solution that uses the measurements of previously purchased items to compare sizes. Retailers using sizing apps like this have seen a 50% decline in returns.

Warehouse improvements

Occasionally, the customer has to return an order because they received the wrong item. Issues in the warehouse will not only result in customer returns, but can also damage brand reputation and the possibility of repeat business. There are a number of things retailers can do to reduce mistakes made in the warehouse.

Regular checks should take place to ensure products are categorised properly in the warehouse. Checks should also be used to make sure that staff understand how the order and packing processes work. This will bring to light any issues or training requirements. Some warehouses now hold individual staff accountable for order errors, which can motivate staff to minimise mistakes.

Parcel packaging

Retailers still underestimate how easily products are damaged. If ripping and breakage during delivery were to damage the product, it is highly likely the customer will return the item. Industrial wrapping tape and double corrugated cardboard are worth investing in to ensure parcels arrive safely.

Remember, every step of the shopping journey has the potential to trigger a return. If retailers make the time and investment to fully understand customers’ preferences, this will enable businesses to improve the shopping process to increase satisfaction and reduce returns.

Rick Kirk is the sales director at B2C Europe, a company that offers cross border shipping solutions.

Image credit: B2C Europe and Fotolia

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