5 Fundamental Ways to Reduce E-Commerce Returns


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An excessively high number of online returns is one of the biggest problems of the e-commerce industry today. In 2018, total online retail sales in the U.S. were about $517 billion, but the returns amounted to a massive $156 billion, accounting for 30% of all sales. With such staggering return rates, the cost of dealing with returns becomes a real concern for online retailers. More specifically, for every item returned, online retailers need to:

1. Offer a postage-paid return label
2. Issue a refund or ship a replacement item
3. Re-package, re-stock, or dispose of returned items

There is no doubt that these expenses will eat into profit margins. What’s more, online retailers might lose repeat customers if they aren’t happy with the returns process. How do we deal with this issue? Here are 5 practical ways to reduce your returns.

1. Reduce false return claims and prevent outright return frauds

In a recent survey by the National Retail Federation, 30% of all online returns are estimated to be either fraudulent or abusive. This costs online retailers nearly $35 billion annually just in the U.S. Examples of return abuse include:

1. Customers claiming that they have not received a product at all
2. Customers claiming that their package is missing an item
3. Customers returning old, used items instead of the new items they have received
4. Customers damaging a product and claiming they received a defective product

You can easily address these issues by keeping evidence. More specifically, you can record your packing process before each item is shipped and send the recorded videos to your customers. Fulfillment solution companies like MARQ offers an easy way to record videos for free.

Customers who receive packing videos before their products arrive are less likely to return for a few reasons. First, your customers will appreciate the transparency and more likely to trust your brand. Second, there seems to be a deterrence effect on return frauds when there is clear evidence that your product or shipment had no problem. According to Return Logic, online retailers who use packing videos see a 40~50% decrease in their return rates.

2. Make sure your customer has sufficient information about your product

A more indirect way to reduce online returns is to ensure customers buy the right product. In order to do this, you need to provide as much information as possible about your product. At the very least, your customers should have access to information about:

1. Key features, benefits, and technical specifications of your product
2. Clear product photos and videos of your product and its use
3. Detailed answers to commonly asked questions and user inquiries
4. Ratings and reviews on your products

Providing customers with comprehensive product information will result in fewer returns and ultimately reduce your return costs.

3. Avoid making shipment errors

23% of online returns are due to incorrect items being shipped and another 20% are due to products being damaged in transit. Those mistakes not only cost you time and money to rectify but pose a big risk to your customer satisfaction and loyalty. To avoid sending incorrect items, you can adopt a scanner to tag items with barcode to take out the factor of human error. To prevent shipping damage, you can wrap items individually in cushioning material or add material to fill any empty spaces in your package.

If you experience these types of errors on a regular basis, you can outsource your fulfillment to a specialist provider, which already has safeguards against shipment errors in place. Top international fulfillment companies include Shipmonk, Rakuten Super Logistics, and Shipbob.

4. Collect data on the reasons for returns

Knowing the reason for the returns is important to reduce returns in the future. You can make adjustments to your products, website, or shipping process once you find out the reason. Return Merchandise Authorization (RMA) helps you deal with returns better. It requires your customers to visit a webpage and enter the reasons for their returns before they generate a postage label and packing slip for their items. This lets you easily collect data from your website and forewarns you that an item is on its way back, helping you manage your stock and cash flow accordingly.

5. Turn your returns process into a positive experience

Even if you take all of the steps above, returns do occur. But it is important to reduce the return rates by turning the returns process into a positive experience. In a recent survey, 92% of customers said that they will buy from a business again if the returns process is convenient. There are two different ways to provide positive return experiences:

1. Offer tracking: return is a lengthy process for your customers. They will feel even longer if they have to wait without knowing where their products are.
2. Process quickly: customers want to receive a refund or exchange fast. The speed of process will determine your customer retention.

Online retailers will be able to maximize their sales in the rapidly growing e-commerce industry once they have the right returns strategy. Reducing returns is often overlooked, yet most effective ways to grow in the online market.


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