If you’re an online retailer, you probably already know that some amount of product returns are par for the course.

Last year, almost 21% of online purchases were returned to their merchants, according to data from the National Retail Foundation. And in some industries, that rate can be as high as 40%.

For brands, a high return rate can take a big bite out of your profit margins, and can often represent the end of a customer relationship.

So to lower your return rate, you need to think about why customers are making returns in the first place – and come up with strategies to ensure that your products meet their expectations when they decide to make a purchase.

Why do product returns happen?

First, let’s consider some of the most common reasons why customers decide to send back items.

PowerReviews.com ran a survey asking customers what their reasons for returning an online purchase were. According to their data, the top contenders are:

  • The item doesn’t fit
    This is likely to be an obvious consideration if you’re selling apparel, intimates, swimwear, or footwear. When the customer doesn’t have the opportunity to try on the item in person, and they’re not familiar with the brand’s sizing, there’s a good chance that an item may not fit as desired. Seventy percent of respondents said they’d returned an item for this reason.

  • Item is damaged or defective
    This was the next most common reason for an ecommerce return, impacting 65% of survey respondents. In this case, the error is on your end as the merchant – either something went wrong in the manufacturing process, or the item may have been damaged in transport. Or, in some cases, the customer may incorrectly assume an item is broken, but has failed to learn how to operate the product before deciding to make a return.

  • Item doesn’t match description
    Nearly half (49%) of customers had returned an item that didn’t match the product description. This might mean anything from different dimensions or material than they saw on the product page, to an item that doesn’t operate the way that it was described on the site.

  • Don’t like the item
    Sometimes the purchase just isn’t to the customer’s taste – or maybe they got it as a gift for someone who already had the product. Whatever the case, this accounts for 32% of returns.

  • Ordered multiple items/sizes
    Many customers engage in “bracketing,” or purchasing numerous items with the intention of only keeping one, to see which is the best fit or looks the best on them — essentially creating their own “try after you buy” strategy to determine which product is right for them. Thirteen percent of customers had returned an item for this reason.

So now that you know the most common reason customers return products, what can you do to ensure it doesn’t happen so often?

How to lower your return rate

Try these tactics for reducing the number of product returns that your store has to process:

  • Improve your product pages with detailed visuals and descriptions
    The best way to make sure that your products meet your customer expectations is to provide them with as much detail as possible. On each product page, consider including close-up product photos from different angles, and product videos. If you sell apparel, you can provide multiple images of a clothing item showing what it looks like on models with different body types, and what their measurements are, so customers understand how an item is likely to fit them. It’s also important to include sizing charts that show customers which size they should wear based on their measurements, or offer a “real fit” guide that recommends a sizing option based on what sizes they wear in other brands.

  • Include customer reviews and photos
    User-generated content, including product reviews, photos, and videos, can help prospective buyers understand how other customers have used your items, and give them a better sense of whether the product will work for them. Including user-submitted photos of apparel can give customers an idea of how the item will fit them; user-submitted photos of home decor can also provide inspiration for complementary products that will help them style a room. Even if reviews aren’t 100% positive, it’s better to give customers a comprehensive look at feedback on your products so that they can make an informed decision about what to buy.

  • Correct any flaws in the manufacturing or shipping process
    When you receive returns, check your return rate by item to see if certain brands or items are getting returned more frequently than others. Does a certain manufacturer have a high error rate, or are more fragile shipments often getting damaged during delivery? Find out where your brand is experiencing failures in the process, and take steps to remedy them, whether that means changing your shipping carrier or swapping different brands for ones that frequently experience defects.

  • Incentivize exchanges
    No matter what you do, you won’t get your return rate to zero — but you can encourage more of those customers to exchange their product for a new item rather than seeking a refund. Using an automated returns management solution like Loop, you can deliver personalized product recommendations for exchange options, based on each customer’s return reason: Was a product too small? Offer them the next size up. Wrong color? Try it in blue. If a customer is still angling for a refund, you can even offer them bonus store credit that they can use on an exchange for any item in your store. After all, an exchange helps you retain revenue that you’d otherwise lose, and preserves your relationship with that customer.

Want to lower your return rate and retain more revenue through exchanges? Get in touch with our team for a demo.