I was recently involved in an online discussion (ecomchat) which started when the question was asked “how important is delivery, shipping & returns for retailers?”.

I responded with a home truth based on all the 100’s of hours of user research that we have conducted/are continually conducting for multichannel retailers. 

When a user/consumer has a choice of retailer from which to buy the product they are looking for, after price then it is almost always delivery options, delivery costs and then the returns proposition that are the three most important factors which influence buyer behaviour.

The back story

This then led on to feedback from a few ecommerce professionals citing how many brands, particularly catalogue retailers, can have upwards of a 50% returns rate (not too great for accurately reporting on your monthly revenue from GA eh!).

I got the impression from this feedback that the idea of providing and promoting free returns, or to in any way be appearing to make your returns proposition appealing to visitors, isn’t business centric as you are encouraging this behaviour from your customers.

I then posed the question (stay with me on this, there are some tips and techniques to come!) ‘who is to blame for having a high return rate, the retailer or the customer'” to which one of the responses I got back was ‘in reality the fault lies with both, for retailers sizing consistency and customers never reading the sizing’.

Getting to the point

At this stage, having now being focussed on understanding and using insights from the voice of the customer for retail businesses for over 13 years (including my first seven years at the UK’s biggest home shopping retailer Shop Direct Group, who ironically did for a long time have very high returns rates), I felt that this short article was worth writing.

Here are nine ways retailers can influence returns rates

Size guides

Ensure your sizes and size guide uses expected sizes that visitors can relate to (UK women expect to see standard sizes of 8, 10, 12, 14 etc).

Here, Next only shows women’s shoes in continental sizes, with no other information on what these means in UK terms: 

If, like me, you don’t know how these equate to UK sizes, then you’re stuck. Will customers find out elsewhere and come back to purchase or just leave the site?

It’s a risk Next doesn’t need to take. It should be providing UK sizes for UK visitors. 

Link to relevant size guide

Provide a link to the relevant part of your usable size guide, rather than your full size guide areas, right next to size selector on product pages, as an overlay or simple lightbox window. 

Here’s a good example from Schuh. Next, take note. 

Encourage accounts

Account holders typically have more brand affiliation to make repeat purchases, in turn helping them get a better understanding of the sizes of the clothes from this brand. 

Do all that you can to encourage 1st time customers to create an account with you at the end of their transaction.

There is a balance to be struck between encouraging registration and reducing abandonment though. 

Provide info on size of models in product images

Provide visitors with the size of the model and the size of the product they are wearing so visitors get an accurate understanding of the fit/flow. 

Here’s a good example from Oasis: 

Allow customer feedback

Allow customers to provide product feedback on the fit of the product, as one of a few different review attributes such as value, durability or others that suit your products. 

Schuh allows this in customer reviews

Fitting tools

Consider implementing a fit guide like ASOS fit visualiser or videos on sizing on the Speedo Sculpture range to help visitors understand which size will be best for them.

Gather feedback from customers returning goods

Ensure you encourage visitors to not only specify the reason they are returning an item but also to provide feedback which can qualify the reason more than just ‘size not suitable’.

Look at products with high returns rates

Identify particular products which have high returns rate to understand if there are potential quality issues which can be addressed. 

Use video

For fashion products, if budget permits, provide short videos of the product being worn to bring the fit and flow of the garment to life. 

Net A Porter does this: 

Good product imagery

Ensure photographs accurately represent the quality of the product and show all important elements. 360 degree views can really help on this.

Here, Schuh provides the 360 view, as well as a range of images: 

Provide free returns

Finally, more as food for thought, consider the potential resentment from customers if you don’t provide a flexible, free returns policy, as your competitors are almost guaranteed to be doing already.

Summary

First and foremost it is the retailer’s responsibility to allow visitors to make a well informed decision when ordering what will hopefully be the correct size rather than ordering two different sizes.

In this post I have shared some of the main techniques which can facilitate this from my experience.

Questions for you

  • What techniques have been successful in reducing your return rate?
  • Has the investment in technology aimed at reducing returns rate delivered ROI?
  • What % of your returns are from multi-size purchase behaviour versus single size but (enter reason for return here) behaviour?
  • What does the future hold for retailers with potentially damaging returns rates?