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How A Great Customer Experience Can Prevent Returns And Exchanges

The reality is this: 20% of products bought online are returned each year, and 82% of shoppers say they would think twice before shopping from a brand again after a negative returns experience. 

While the concept of returns and exchanges will never go away, the rate at which they occur can be lessened. The secret? Creating a positive customer experience at every stage of the purchase cycle. This article will unpack the most common reasons behind customer returns and how a great customer experience can enable them to happen less often.

Why do shoppers return items?

More than half of online purchases are returned in the apparel industry. Let’s look at some common reasons why:

  • Clothing items were too small (30%) 
  • Clothing items were too large (22%)
  • Changed their mind (12%) 
  • Didn’t like the style (8%)
  • Items were not as described (5%) 
  • Unspecified reasons (18%)

Across other industries, many shoppers (80% to be exact) return online items because they arrived broken or damaged. The following are some additional reasons in general that online shoppers return products:

  • Products don’t meet expectations.
  • Shoppers buy a variety of sizes of the same product with the intention of returning some items.
  • The consumer received the wrong product (for example, the product was the wrong color or size, or it was a completely different item).

It’s important to not only understand why customers may return items, but what they’re more likely to return as well. This will help your brand set realistic expectations and goals if your products fall under one of the categories listed below: 

Returns and exchanges are also more likely to happen following yearly busy online shopping periods (e.g., the winter holidays). Garnering a positive online experience for your customers all year round can help lower the need for returns and exchanges when these popular periods end. Check out when retailers expect to receive returns by month:

Clearly, returns are a large part of eCommerce, but that doesn’t mean they have to be disastrous for your business. 

How to Prevent Returns & Exchanges With A Great Customer Experience

There are many things eCommerce brands can do to ensure that customers have a positive experience while shopping online. Pay attention to the small details and you might be surprised at how quickly they can add up to increase your conversion rate and decrease your return rate. For example, you can:

1. Incorporate high-quality visuals 

Virtual shopping simply isn’t the same as being in person. Online shoppers can’t feel the product or inspect it up close. It’s challenging to decide if shoppers even want to buy your products if you don’t have high-quality visuals. In fact, 22% of products are returned because they don’t look like they did online. 

To prevent returns, use the highest quality visuals possible. Zoom in on details like the stitching and buttons to ensure that shoppers get a great visual of what the product really looks like. Use high-quality cameras to get the best images possible. 

Here are some other photography tips to get great eCommerce images: 

  • Choose between product-only photos with a white background, or lifestyle photos, which show your product being used in context. 
  • Maintain consistency in your photos. Your eCommerce store should have a consistent style across all your images. For example, if you use lifestyle photos, then it should be the same across your entire website. All the photos should be cohesive. 
  • Prioritize good lighting. Great lighting is hard to achieve, but it creates much better photos. Use natural light if you’re on a budget, or invest in high-quality artificial lighting.
  • Edit your photos, but not too much. Subtly editing your photos is key, but don’t over-edit them so much that they look drastically different from your product in real life.

93% of shoppers say that visual appearance is the key deciding factor in their purchasing decisions. Prioritize great photos, and you will get more conversions and fewer returns. The last thing you would want is people returning items because they don’t like a singular detail. 

2. Showcase customer reviews & keep descriptions up to date

Customer reviews are great because not only do other shoppers trust them, but oftentimes they are incredibly detailed as well. Leverage your customer’s descriptions to help other shoppers make better, more informed purchase decisions. Customer reviews bring a different perspective, and shoppers tend to trust them more than a brand’s own product descriptions. Give your customers a chance to add photos to their reviews and you’ll really start to excel at providing a positive customer experience. Below is an example of how the brand Pregmate puts a huge emphasis on reviews on each and every product page:

 

In addition to customer reviews that potential customers may read, always make sure your product descriptions are updated! We recommend combing through your descriptions at the end of every quarter to ensure copy is accurate and up-to-date. 

3. Ensure quality control to reduce errors 

23% of returns happen because retailers send the wrong item. This issue is due to quality control and errors caused by your warehouse team. Mistakes happen, especially as businesses grow and orders come in faster. However, prioritizing quality control to reduce errors is essential to prevent returns.

If you’re a smaller retailer, you’re probably packing the items yourself. You can ensure quality control by double-checking items and orders before sending them out. Bigger retailers often rely on automation to help them achieve the same results of quality control. For example, inventory management software can be a huge help depending on the size of your company (and your budget). 

At the end of the day, if you improve your warehouse processes, you will reduce returns. You’ll also increase consumer satisfaction because customers usually don’t want to go through the process of returning an item. Avoid this issue altogether, and both you and your customers will be happier. 

However, no matter how much quality control you have, mistakes are bound to happen. Shoppers are going to have to continue returning products. Simplify your return process for these instances, because 92% of consumers will buy products from you again if your return processes are uncomplicated. To take things one step further, consider having a flexible returns policy where you extend your window to 45-90 days instead of the usual 28-30 days. 

4. Utilize virtual tools to help show products in action 

In 2022, augmented reality is going to be everywhere, particularly in the beauty, apparel, and home goods industries. Utilizing AI virtual tools, such as FirstInsight, can help customers see how certain products would look on their body type or would look in their home. Naturally, this can help provide a better customer experience and prevent returns and exchanges. 

There are many different types of virtual tools out there to help improve the customer experience. You can learn more about how to get started with AI for shopping here. 

Reducing Returns is a Continuous Process

Preventing returns isn’t a one-time fix. It requires constant assessment and analysis of data and current trends to determine the best path to success. Take a good look at your return rate and the process that customers need to follow to return an item, and think about areas that can be improved. It doesn’t hurt to directly ask your customers for their feedback, either. If they’re struggling with your products, website, return process, or more, they’ll probably be happy to let you know. Take their opinions into account and find out what works best for your company when it comes to reducing returns.

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