We’ve all done it: purchased an item on impulse, only to regret it later and decide to return it for a refund. Some shoppers would rather hold on to an unwanted item than deal with the hassle of returning it, while others are “frequent fliers” at customer service, buying and returning at will. Returns are a cause for concern for nearly all retailers, however, they are particularly worrisome for e-commerce retailers. Whereas fewer than 9% of sales made at brick and mortar stores are eventually returned, at least 30% of all e-commerce orders suffer the same fate! (Business2Community)

Tightening your returns policy is not the answer. Modern shoppers care about returns policies and overwhelmingly will shop elsewhere if they aren’t content with the store’s policy: more than 8 in 10 will only purchase from an online store if it offers free returns (UPS). How, then, can retailers reduce the impact that returns and exchanges have on their bottom line?

Build Community with Ratings and Reviews

It should come as no surprise that consumers hold other shoppers’ opinions in high regard. In fact, they trust other shoppers more than brand content, so including shopper-created content like ratings and reviews on every product page can be an important educational tool. Your e-commerce solution should also allow you to include specific prompts, like sizing information (fit true to size, too big, too small) to guide reviewers to provide information that would be especially helpful in limiting returns.

Craft Detailed Product Descriptions

To effectively limit returns, it’s important that shoppers understand exactly what they’re buying. Augment your test description with multimedia elements like multiple images (on a model, front, back, detail, for example), video, and other relevant attachments and information (care instructions, user guide, etc.). By informing customers upfront, you will reduce the number of orders made because customers couldn’t find the information without obtaining the physical item.

Deliver on Your Promise

It should go without saying that the customer must receive what they actually ordered, but returns due to shipping and fulfillment errors still happen. Ensuring that you have the right tools in place, such as an omni-channel order management system (OMS), is the first step in reducing or eliminating fulfillment errors. However, even the most advanced OMS will still need human intervention, so the next step is to implement processes to reduce the opportunity of introducing human error. For example, always having two pairs of eyes on every shipment (one person picks, another packs) is one good way to catch issues before they impact the customer.

Embrace Showrooming

There was a time when retailers truly feared the effects of showrooming – the practice of visiting a physical store to test and try items only to complete the purchase online. Retailers didn’t like being used as a showroom: they wanted to make the immediate sale and capture the customer’s wallet before they left the physical store. Smart retailers now see the bigger picture. They understand that the customer journey is not linear, and that customers will often browse in-store before buying online, or vice-versa. Rather than trying to fight the trend, embrace it, making it easy for customers to shop in brick and mortar stores without the pressure to purchase on the spot. Signage in the store about your website or shipping policies (“www.ourwebsite.com is open 24/7 and offers free 2-day shipping on orders over $50,” for example) can build awareness and help remind customers that they can shop with your brand whenever, wherever it is most convenient to them.

Learn from Your Customers

Encourage associates to ask customers why they’re returning an item. Record that information in your retail system: you should have fields for both structured data (like a reason code) and unstructured data (freeform notes the associate can add for more specifics). Once you’re equipped with that data, a retail analytics solution can be employed to alert you to trends and patterns that you can then use to make wiser product and merchandising decisions in the future.

These tips should help you limit the amount of returns, but remember that even the most proactive retailer will still have some returns. It’s okay! Customers will change their minds until the end of time. Don’t forget that returns are an opportunity to re-engage with the customer, and by ensuring the experience goes smoothly, you can turn it into a positive experience. Then it won’t be so much of a problem… you can turn it into an opportunity! By allowing in-store returns on online orders, you can even seize the opportunity to sell more to customers while they’re in the store. These are the moments that remain in customers’ minds when they think about your brand, so constructing a convenient returns experience is an important part of the overall customer journey.