Ecommerce Growth

9 Proven Ways to "Prevent" eCommerce Returns (+ Smart Handling ideas)

Festive season or not, eCommerce returns are a reality. In this guide we explore ways you can immediately adopt to reduce returns.

9 Proven Ways to "Prevent" eCommerce Returns (+ Smart Handling ideas)

In the ideal scenario, every business would enjoy repeat customers without ever having to face the troubled waters of eCommerce product returns.

However, statistics show a different story. 

Consider the example of the 2021 version of Returns Day.

In January that year, a national day that is meant to mark product returns across December and January, turned into National Returns Week. 

And if that’s not enough, it’s now an established fact that the rate of returns for online stores is 18.1% whereas for physical stores it’s anywhere between 8% and 10%. 

To add to the bad news, fraudulent behavior has been increasingly on the rise, especially post the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to Wall Street Journal, fraudsters have made up to $20, 000 a day during this period. 

Having said what we did, we know for a fact that with the right kind of optimization efforts, you can reduce the rate of returns.

To help you deepen your understanding, in this piece we will explore the following sections:

1. How to optimize your website to prevent returns

2. How to handle eCommerce return requests (with care)

3. How to prevent return fraud

4. FAQ about eCommerce returns

1. How to optimize your website to prevent returns

While we write this piece, knowing well that eCommerce returns are a sad reality, we want to focus on something less acknowledged - of how to optimize your website to prevent returns. Here’s a look at some key areas. 

a. Go easy on cross-selling products

We agree that there is a bit of a debate on whether one should cross-sell or not.

Now, we think cross-selling can be a win-win for both business and customers, as long as it’s done in a relevant way.

Becoming too pushy is often a mistake businesses make in order to win over customers.

In the process, they may end up selling to those who may be persuaded into buying but regret the decision later and initiate a return.

Here are a few things to remember if you do decide to cross-sell. 

- Keep the price within limits

Because let’s admit it - buyer’s remorse is very real.

And it is often associated with having bought a product with a significantly higher price.

The antidote for this is to keep your product pricing within bounds. 

And by “bounds”, what we mean is to make a thorough analysis of the price your ideal customer would be able to afford and then price your product accordingly. 

Here’s an example from snack brand Graze.

Notice their recommendations. When someone’s buying a £2.99 product, they're likely to notice a £6.99 recommendation (and not £50).

graze cross selling example

- Narrow down choices to likelier preferences

It’s not true that the more choices a shopper has, the more they’re likely to make a quick buy.

On the contrary, they would probably be hit by choice paralysis, and not make any purchase after all.

To avoid this, be clear on what a customer’s purchasing history has been like and what their choices so far are saying about what they are likely to add to the cart.

This improves the chances of them buying and not feeling like they have bought an unnecessary item later. 

- Make use of smart bundling

And this means you may want to downplay individual products as suggestions.

Smart bundles ensure multiple connected needs of the same customer get met.

And when this happens, they become less likely to want to return one of the products from that bundle. 

Here’s how beauty accessory brand Vanity Planet does it, while offering a discounted price for all the products that are part of a bundle. 

vanity planet cross selling example
Still wondering what would spruce up your cross-sell strategy? Read How to Cross-sell on Product Pages—Without Being Pushy (+ Examples)

b. Use only verified customer reviews

Consider this: according to Brightlocal, 60% consumers were “regularly” or “always” browsing reviews before buying from local businesses in 2020.

This number sharply rose to 77% in 2021. 

This statistic is just another elaboration of how social proof is a prime element in driving eCommerce sales.

Done well and curated effectively, customer reviews can also be a great reason why paying customers can pull back from opting for returns. 

- Make reviews easy work

Since this is the only way more people will feel inspired to take some time out and write their experiences down.

One way to ensure this is to not overcrowd your review form with endless fields and questions.

As long as you keep it relevant and relatable, customers will share their experiences readily. 

Here’s an example of how easy leaving a review can be.

Banana Republic sticks to the most relevant fields in their review form, making customers eager to share their reviews feel at ease and spend less time. 

banana republic write review example
banana republic write review example

- Use more verified reviews

The big reason behind this is the existence of fake reviews.

So, along with making your reviews accessible, when you display trust badges (like “verified buyer”), it can be even more powerful. 

Here’s an example from international cosmetic aggregator brand Sephora.

They use “verified purchase” as an indicator for reviews that can be trusted more than the others. 

sephora customer review example

- Leverage your reviews with user-generated visuals

Because it’s one thing to read a user’s experience and another to visually process an image they’ve uploaded.

For example, if a user has left a review appreciating a product and adds an image, then the latter just amplifies the power of that positive review. 

Here’s a glimpse at how men’s fashion brand Bonobos helps customers incorporate image and/or video into their reviews.

bonobos user generated review example

c. Avoid these common product catalog mistakes

Managing your product catalog well often means an increase in sales.

There are multiple reasons for it - shoppers finding it easier to navigate and better ease to check out no matter which channel they’re using.

But it’s not just increased sales - an efficient product catalog management system could also mean you have lesser returns.

Only if you’re able to not make some of the following mistakes. 

- Irrelevant product recommendations

While a customer may still go ahead and make a compulsive purchase, they may soon enough regret it.

The result may be that they would want to return it without trying it. 

- Subpar product description and information

This can be a bad deal especially when shoppers purchase a product based on assumptions rather than what you’ve brought to light through the correct facts and slight nudges.

And when they find a product that they wouldn’t like to use or call their own, they may end up wanting to return it. 

- Use of an improper data management tool

This can mean new SKUs don’t get added or even misaligned SKUs with products mentioned.

This can be the cause of a wrong product being sent and customers wanting to return it (sometimes not even wanting an exchange with a more suitable product, thanks to the shopping frustration). 

Keen to be aware of more product catalog mistakes so that you don’t repeat them? Read this

d. Create inspiring post purchase emails

After all, as a business your larger aim is to retain customers, offer them better experiences and get them to buy from you again and again.

In this journey, the post purchase emails aren’t just about them knowing that their order is processed or that they will be informed when their order is shipped.

The good news is that post purchase emails when crafted strategically can create in your customers a deeper kind of brand loyalty.

Here are a few best practices. (But if you need more inspiration, have a look at this.) 

- Offer expert help

If you would like your customers to know something specific about the product they’ve bought, make sure you send that across.

The more your email adds to the overall experience of using the product, the more it will have the power to carve out precious mindspace. 

Lily & Roo, for example, sends tips and ideas on how a product can be maintained more effectively. 

lily & roo post purchase email example

- Collect feedback and opinion

Because between selling a product and having it returned, there are various steps.

Asking a customer for their review or rating in between is a way to enable better customer support if it comes to that. 

Here’s a look at a post purchase feedback email from adventure brand Patagonia.

Why it works is because it’s straightforward and stresses on the need for the brand (and other customers) to know what works and what doesn’t. 

patagonia feedback email example

e. Offer explanatory product descriptions

A lot of text can be boring for the usual eCommerce shopper. But most shoppers stop to read product descriptions.

And the logic is really quite simple: in the absence of a brick-and-mortar experience, without an actual person leading them through what a product is about, product descriptions are the next best solution.

And when it comes to eCommerce returns, they can be leveraged to offer a clearer picture to your audiences, reducing the chances of an expectation mismatch. Here are a few best practices to follow. 

- Perform a gap analysis

And this does not just hold true for the content you have been using so far.

Do this exercise to notice what your competitors are doing right and what they are not.

Remember that the best product descriptions engage the imagination of audiences while educating them on how the product will enrich their lives.

The more a description can work to clarify a customer’s questions, the lesser the likelihood of a return will be. 

Here’s an example to elucidate what we’re talking about.

Below we showcase two brands that are known for their great products: Huda Beauty and Kopari.

Notice what sections they have made available for their customers to read, absorb, understand and to help make a decision. 

huda beauty product description example
kopari product description example

- Create a good balance between features and benefits.

Because customers are real people who care about how something can help them - besides caring for how it works.

Specifications and technicalities don’t paint the full picture and if you offer only these to a possibly paying customer, they may never quite understand how to use it in real-time. 

One brand that strikes a chord between features and benefits is Laird Superfood.

They do this by introducing sections that help the shopper imagine what using the product might be like. 

laird superfood product description example
laird superfood product description example
laird superfood product description example

- Incorporate a how-to section as part of the description

It can cover a number of things including how to use the product, how to maintain it, what to do if it does not work etc.

This creates self-reliance in customers and reduces the likelihood that they’ll need to return it because of lack of knowhow. 

Here’s an example to show you how an effective how-to section can ease the lives of customers.

Rad Soap brings in a “suggested use” section to tell customers how to use the product effectively. Some brands also use a video instead of text. 

rad soap product how to example

f. Use accurate product images

When you think of how half of the human brain (directly or indirectly) is always engaged in processing visual stimuli, you realize why eCommerce relies so heavily on product images.

Accurate product images are also why shoppers believe what’s said about a product to be true.

And when they buy, they are also likely to find a perfect match between what’s shown and what gets delivered (thus reducing returns).

Here are a few relevant product image best practices. 

- Display images from as many perspectives as possible

This offers your customers a fuller view of what the product might look and feel, in the obvious absence of a physical store.

Later when they receive the product, they even have the liberty to check out your images to verify. 

Gymshark ensures their product images are evocative as well as self-explanatory.

In fact they display a video that keeps playing on loop to offer a sense of how the product looks on a real person. 

gymshark product page photography example

- Make sure the full product finds representation

This is not exactly the same as capturing a product from different angles. It’s to ensure that your full product can be viewed at close range.

The trick is to capture all vital parts of a product - the front, the back, the label, signs of guarantee if any etc. 

Lowe’s takes effort to make this happen for their products. Consider the following example. 

lowes product page photography example

Anyone buying this midi pendant light will have the option of seeing it using a 360 degree viewer, use the zoom option and also play a gif to absorb the details in action. 

- Retain 85% of the frame space for your product

This is the only way its boldness can be captured with every specific detail that the customer may want to spot readily.

Add the zoom function to this and you’re all set. 

Notice how boldly Daily Harvest chooses to place their products within the frame, reducing negative space (but not doing away with it completely). 

daily harvest product page photography example

g. Bring in a reliable sizing chart

Sizing issues are common and naturally, the average customer feels deeply inconvenienced by them.

At a time when eCommerce has come to be about speed and ease of experience, sizing issues can be a dampener.

So bringing in a reliable sizing chart can help shoppers pick the right fit and reduce returns in the process.

Here are a few best practices that can help you leverage this feature. 

- Opt for an interactive size guide (if possible)

This won’t surely be as straightforward as a size chart opening up when you click on a link - and it shows some numericals.

An interactive size guide will require you to ask some relevant multi-choice questions, which in turn will help your system recommend the right fit. 

Here’s an example of a great interactive size guide. Asos asks a number of questions to ascertain what a possible good fit might be. 

asos size guide example
asos size guide example
asos size guide example

- Make measurement conversion a non-negotiable feature

This is especially relevant if you’re a business that already caters to or is looking to service customers globally.

After all the lingo used to refer to size isn’t the same everywhere.

A quick measurement conversion reference also ensures shoppers don’t leave the page to figure their size (and never come back once distracted). 

Yet again, Asos ensures their standard sizing information carries a measurement conversion feature. 

asos measurement conversion example
asos measurement conversion example

- Incorporate a brand-specific size chart

Depending on what exactly you make, you may need more than a standard size chart which covers primarily 4 basic elements - height, width, bust/chest and waist.

For example, if you specialize in cardigans, you may also need to focus on the size of the neck, shoulders and wrists. 

Here’s a look at the various sections fashion brand Select introduces in their brand-specific size chart. 

select brand size guide example

h. Use videos that show how the product works

It’s for a good reason that the 2019 Salsify survey said that the average US digital shopper expects to see at least six product photos and three videos while browsing a product. In a way, we go back to what we were saying earlier - human beings process visual stimuli faster and more efficiently. So when it comes to a buying experience (and an ensuing decision), video can make all the difference. 

- Highlight features and benefits

Consider using video to recreate an in-person session, where a sales representative would do a demo for the customer.

By highlighting the most important features and benefits, you’ll assist the customer in understanding how to use the product (and not returning it because of lack of know-how). 

Makeup brand Vanity Planet creates simple, easy-to-view videos that instantly tell customers what they can expect from a certain product.

While discovering their LED sonic facial brushes we noticed they have put a video describing what the two kinds of LED brushes are meant for.

Here’s a screenshot. 

vanity planet product video example

- Answer commonly asked questions

Users have quite a few of them, especially if they haven’t used the product before.

When you incorporate FAQ into your larger video narrative, it can become a complete knowledge transfer session for the interested customer.

This can be a real help for them to figure out solutions on their own without having to request for a return. 

Men’s skincare brand Tíege Hanley ensures to put a section called “the science of health” under product images in every product page.

Apart from a detailed explainer on how the brand approaches men’s skin health scientifically, once clicked, this sections shows a video where Tíege Hanley products are compared with those from some well-known brands. 

tiege hanley video faq example
tiege hanley video faq example

- Include close-ups and full views.

Even if you’ve already included them in your set of product images.

Interested buyers typically go straight to a video to understand how a product works, and might just pay more attention to detail while absorbing the details of the video. 

To do make the most of your product pages, read our eCommerce Product Page Guide

i. Use 3D/AR/VR if you can

One of the biggest challenges that eCommerce stores face is that of recreating an in-store experience with available resources.

Since customers often don’t have the option of trying out multiple products, they end up buying something and not liking it.

Naturally, they want to return it sooner or later.

One way out of this conundrum is to introduce 3D/AR/VR to create an interactive experience that reflects on the brand and also offers shoppers a life-like experience. 

One of our favorite examples is from the home accessories and furniture brand Ikea.

They launched an iOS aligned free app called Ikea Place to enable shoppers to realistically visualize products within a space.

The highlight of the app is that it automatically scales products aligned to the size of a specific space, the accuracy being 98%. 

2. How to handle eCommerce return requests (with care)

It becomes tricky for eCommerce businesses because on one hand they are elated by higher sales, but on the other return requests are just as real.

In the absence of a brick-and-mortar setup, there are a few methods that can have an immediate impact on how customers view returns. 

a. Display return instructions clearly on the package

Return labels exist for a reason and when you use them, wonders can happen.

For one, they convey to customers that as a business, you aren’t just interested in making a sale.

It acts as a post-purchase gesture that can offer the customer peace of mind, whether they actually get around to making a return or not.

Here are a few things you’ll have to remember while incorporating return labels on your packages (except all other product-related details).

Clarify what’s acceptable-as-return conditions. Should customers return the tags and paperwork when they return the product or is just the invoice enough? Should it be absolutely untouched in terms of use before the return? Clarifying what’s acceptable to you as a brand, in congruence with the laws of the country or state you’re in, is important. 

Convey who will cover return shipping. And if you’re really concerned about retaining the goodwill and the paying hand of customers, then you’ll assume this role. Because let’s admit it - 73% of shoppers have been known to state that their overall return experience decides how likely they are to shop with a retailer again. 

Include a QR code that takes them to your policy page. While your return label may briefly describe key aspects of your main returns policy, it’s a good idea to offer customers easy access to the whole policy. What better way than to display a QR code that they can readily access? 

b. Make it super easy for them to return

Unless specifically clarified, customers may think returning a product they won’t use won’t be easy.

This can have two effects. One, they may feel put off with the engagement with your brand, although their assumption is partly their responsibility. Two, they may struggle to find out the exact means of returning the product or opting for an exchange. To avoid these instances, ensure the following. 

Have the minimum number of steps to get the job done. Reduce the number of clicks, even if you have to collect feedback on why they’re returning. Inform them of a tentative return date so that they can plan for it. The lesser the number of steps you impose on the customer, the lesser they think that a return is a logistical hassle. 

Offer easy access to relevant customer support. Understand that most customers would rather be guided by a customer support expert than read the fine-print themselves. To ensure that, highlight your customer support numbers across emails, app notifications, confirmation messages and even on the product packaging. 

Explain all the nuances of a return in a FAQ page. Returns is a generic term that when broken down can offer a perspective on multiple factors. These include what customers opting for international shipping do, what rules someone returning a gift must follow, on misplacing return labels etc. 

Here’s a look at how men’s fashion brand Bonobos covers a number of different aspects to the advantage of their customers. 

bonobos return faq example
bonobos return faq example

c. Keep them updated on the status of their return

This is the part that can either make or break customer trust. As a brand it’s not enough if you update your customers until the point a product gets delivered to their doorstep. What happens after they don’t want a product anymore, also speaks tons about your philosophy as a brand. 

Offer in-app returns status updates. This can give them a ready view into how long the whole process will take.

Introducing a progress bar under such circumstances could be a good idea to relay the different points and mark the completed parts with a different color to enhance UX. 

Stagger alert messages until the return is completely successful. Sending a thank you message soon after the return has been handed to the courier and another one when it’s about to reach your warehouse could be relevant for the customer.

In case you’re offering a tracking link, then the more nuanced stages can be featured on the page the link leads to. 

d. Automate returns to reduce processing time

Given that both businesses and customers benefit from better efficiency, automation is a good intervention. Using your business app or website the customer can request for a return and at the back end, you can approve the request. Here are a few things to ensure if you do decide to automate your eCommerce product returns. 

Take up the responsibility of free shipping. You may argue that that could be harmful for your bottom line but we think not.

If you smartly incorporate the cost of shipping into the price, free shipping is ideal.

Apart from making the customer feel the ease of not having to pay extra, it also speeds up returns. 

Avoid third-party returns (if you can). This is problematic at multiple levels.

For one, the conversation will cease to be just between you and the customer.

Secondly, the customer is also likely to have trust issues if it’s not a direct return and may develop frustration around delays, lack of communication etc. 

e. Offer ongoing customer assistance

A big reason why eCommerce has grown is the trust businesses have managed to create through consistent experiences, delivering brand promises and evolving with technology that ensures not a beat is missed in the entire customer journey.

In all of this, increasingly fine-tuned customer service has played a significant role.

So when it comes to eCommerce returns, ongoing customer assistance needs to be an indispensable feature. 

Make live chat a constant feature. Make sure your customers are able to access support the moment they hit your website. Ideally, the chatbot needs to be able to handle the simplest queries and for more nuanced asks, a support personnel needs to be allocated. 

Here’s a snapshot of how Daily Harvest makes their live chat relevant, easy to access and timely.

Before a customer decides to key in their own query, the live chat presents a number of clickable options for the customer to choose from. 

daily harvest customer support example

Introduce more resources to amp up customer self-service. Because when you’re automating returns, the idea is to cut down all unnecessary points of friction.

For example, if a customer feels the need to talk to a support personnel because nowhere on your site is the warranty period mentioned, then you have a problem in your hands. 

Sustainable bag and related accessories brand Bellroy, for example, chooses to leave no room for simple doubts.

Their website features all the relevant information under “customer care” - indicating what all areas customer support can help with.

This enables the customer to look up information before they have to spend time speaking to support personnel. 

bellroy self service faq example

f. Activate a feedback mechanism

Many eCommerce businesses treat product returns with a gloom-and-doom approach.

However, with the right measures in place, they can become a source of change and improvement.

Implementing a feedback mechanism is essential for customers to feel they are heard and also for businesses to use the feedback for social proof and product development. 

Make space for questions to be asked. And it’s not entirely necessary that customers reach out only to you for product-related questions.

In the best case scenario, a community of customers can work as an answer database for questions that are raised by confused or new customers. 

Here’s a look at how Grove Collaborative ensures they have a “questions” section along with reviews. 

grove collaborative feedback questions example

Introduce a feedback feature on your website. Along with collecting specific feedback about a product, you could also use this to tap into a user’s overall experience. Being asked about their customer journey on your eStore, always leaves customers feeling like they matter and you care. 

Timberland, the well-known adventure brand, for example, ensures this feature is available to customers across their website.

timberland feedback feature example

3. How to prevent return fraud

If eCommerce returns are bad news, you can already imagine what’s worse. 

Return fraud of course. 

Statistics say when retailers make sales worth $1 billion, they see $166 million in returns.

And for $100 worth of returns, they lose $10.30 to fraud.

And this is why many eCommerce majors take the fuss-free route of simply issuing a refund. 

In this section, we’ll elaborate a few FAQs on return fraud. 

- What is return fraud?

Any action that comes under the label of “return fraud” has to do with taking advantage of the existing policies and processes in a business to return a product for financial gain. 

Often, the purchase in the first place is done with the motive of returning the product.

However, this can also apply to those instances where fake receipts are used to claim refunds or stolen goods are returned with the excuse that the receipt has gone missing. 

According to one study, 66 billion transactions will be followed by 33 million fraud-related disputes by 2022. These would be a result of an amalgamation of fraudulent activity, processing errors, authorization failures and consumer disputes. 

Here’s a quick look at some of the most common kinds of return fraud that occur as part of eCommerce transactions. 

  • Chargeback fraud -  Chargeback fraud occurs on the common principle of chargebacks where an amount that has been charged to a credit or debit card must be returned by the retailer to the customer. There are typically two versions of this kind of fraud - criminal and friendly. In criminal chargebacks, fraudulent customers purchase with the intention of retaining the product and then ask for the price deducted to be returned to them. In friendly fraud, which is often accidental, a purchaser might not remember why an amount has been charged to their card and as a result, demand that it be returned. All friendly chargebacks aren’t accidental though - some are thoroughly planned. 
  • Gift card fraud - This kind of return fraud has become commonplace because gift cards can function with lesser constraints and rules. Typically, fraudsters purchase products with a stolen card and then request a cancellation by having the amount returned to a gift card. In parallel, the card’s original owner contacts the retailer, informs its stolen status and requests to have the amount refunded to the account attached to the card. This way, the retailer loses money twice on the same product. 
  • BOPIS fraud - This is a kind of fraudulent activity that is based on the now popular buy-online-pickup-in-store model of purchases. Fraudsters use stolen cards to buy products online and then pick them up later at the store. They either keep these products or resell them. 

What are the possible behaviors to watch out for?

  • Same customer, multiple cards. This should get your alarm bells ringing because this is a typical fraudster tactic. What fraudsters do is use multiple cards to run a check on which ones are really working. 
  • Unfamiliar IP address location. What distinguishes a trustworthy transaction from one that’s not is the closeness between three important aspects - billing address, shipping address and IP address. If these are far flung, you have cause for concern. 
  • Multiple failed purchase attempts. Similar to the first point, this may also reveal that a fraudster is trying to experiment with multiple stolen cards and see which of them work. 
  • Lack of social footprint. This is another red flag because fraudsters end up illegally latching on to multiple identities without having consistency. This typically shows up across social media and other online channels through which someone’s authentic identity can be verified. 
  • Change of shipping address after order has been placed. Fraudsters typically will key in one shipping address and that’s what gets logged at the retailer’s backend system. However, they may call the shipping company later to change the address. 

10 immediate ways to deal with return fraud

  • Make your returns policy more product-focused

Many eCommerce setups make the mistake of creating return policies that are wholly in the favor of the customer.

This leaves no room for tackling fraudulent behavior. So, in order to offer a fairer return policy, you have to make the latter product-focused as well.

A product-focused approach would ensure you’re able to minimize costs and make returns-related recovery efficient. 

  • Offer free returns only for cart sizes above a threshold

Free returns don’t require the customer’s skin in the game, beyond the actual purchase.

This can be especially damaging if fraudsters are planning to swindle through returns.

So, put a price on shipping if the cart size or order value is beneath a certain threshold.

Anything above then becomes applicable for free return. 

  • Blacklist serial returners and fraudulent customers

It goes without saying that return fraud has a massive bearing on the bottom line of a business.

So, as a business owner or leader if you’re thinking of tackling this form of fraud, consider including harsher measures for serial returners and fraudulent customers.

One way of creating a boundary is to explicitly mention in your return policy how many maximum returns in a year you will accept from a shopper.

You could also punish attempted returns beyond the permitted number by deactivating a shopper’s account, reporting them etc.

Just like in early 2022, fashion giant Asos declared they would deactivate the accounts of those who serially display fraudulent behavior - while extending their return window from 28 days to 45 days. 

  • Verify billing and shipping address before processing return

It’s a malpractice that many fraudsters follow as a rule of thumb - to play around with multiple addresses.

Hence, putting up some guardrails around verification can be very helpful.

Apart from verifying the billing and shipping address before processing a return, make sure you have verification set up at the checkout stage and then once again before dispatch.

This multi-layered address verification process can weed out fraudulent behavior more easily. 

  • Implement a quality check process at the customer's doorstep

This is a step that doubly verifies the reason offered by the customer as being the right reason for the return.

A doorstep quality check ensures the product is shipped back for the right reasons.

You can create a checklist for the carrier personnel who is supposed to carry this checkout, which could potentially include quality of the product, presence of the tag (and run a check on size, color, style etc. against the original order), the receipt the customer received with the package and prepaid return label (if any). 

  • Offer store credits instead of cash returns

The biggest fallout of returns is the financial pressure it can create on a business. 

Amplify that with the occurrence of fraud and you get a picture that’s mired with 

uncertainty. One way to reduce the financial pressure and risk is to make store 

credits the norm for returns, instead of cash refunds. This can also act as a dampener for 

those planning to act with the mode of stealing or swindling. 

  • Place a time limit on returns

In order to make their return policies more customer centric, businesses can de-prioritize their own profitability by declaring an impractical frame of time to accept returns.

This is bad news, because fraudsters will definitely take notice.

So if you think a 90 day window will please shoppers, consider bringing it down to 30 days.

Most businesses cut out the risk and declare the return window as anywhere between 15 days and 30 days. 

  • Analyze the digital footprint of your shoppers

This is a step that’s often highlighted when it comes to personalizing for customers. 

However, it holds as effective if you’re trying to get a better picture of possible fraud. From 

location details to frequent log-ins and browsing activity patterns to devices through which 

they access the web, digital footprint can be key to detecting early signs of fraud.

4. FAQs around eCommerce returns

What are the typical reasons for eCommerce returns? 

There are a number of reasons why customers may want to return a product they decided to purchase earlier. Here are the most typical ones. 

  • Product disparity. Essentially, what arrives at a customer’s desktop does not look or feel the way they expected when they saw pictures or read the product description online. 
  • Wrong product shipped & received. This is a case of absolute expectation mismatch because the customer ends up receiving a product they didn’t want in the first place. 
  • Damaged product. When the product reaches the customer’s doorstep, it is not fit to be used. The other instance is where despite finding a minor fault, the customer prefers to send back the product and opt for an exchange. 
  • Fraudulent intentions. As mentioned in the section on eCommerce return fraud earlier, customers also return products with the intention of swindling money from the business or intercepting products. In fact, according to a National Retail Federation study, of the 20.8 % of total retail sales that accounted for returns, 10.6% accounted for fraud. 

How early do customers expect a refund?

With processes around eCommerce returns picking up efficiency as a result of more brands doing exceptional work, customers now want greater speed when it comes to refunds.

According to a survey that was conducted across 4722 buyers, 77% respondents stated that they were less likely to recommend a business if they didn’t issue a credit fast enough. 72% from the same study said that they expect a refund to be issued within 5 working days from the date of return. 

What should I do with international returns?

International returns is often a scary territory for many eCommerce businesses.

However, by creating an efficient review and tracking management system, international returns may become less daunting. Here are a few tips that you may want to work with. 

  • Put a streamlined process in place. This will ensure you get the hang of multiple critical aspects including warehousing, labeling, scanning and picking. The idea is to ensure zero errors across these steps. An effective inventory management system can come to your aid. 
  • Introduce a crisp and clear international returns policy. Nothing too complex where customers lose track of the simplest details. Visually recreating the steps for international returns may also be effective, since this can offer your customers an instant glimpse at what they can expect. 
  • Seek the services of a returns solution provider. If there’s one way of making international returns hassle-free, then this is it. Ensuring a trustworthy returns provider is there to support, means the customer won’t have to take the trouble of shipping the product back to you on their own. 

What should I do with products not in a condition to be resold?

While reselling a product that has been returned in perfect condition is the ideal scenario, there will be times when it’ll be different. In case you do receive products in a condition that they can’t be resold, here are a few other options you may want to consider. 

  • Send them to be recycled
  • Put them up to support donations or causes
  • Declare an online sale with steep discounts 

Is there a way to transform returns into exchanges?

Returns have a direct impact on profitability. However, the risk can be reduced to an extent if you know how to transform some of them into exchanges.

We’re not saying it’s a walk in the park, but with some simple interventions you could turn more of your returns into exchanges. 

  • Make alternative suggestions. Treat these as product recommendations done at a different stage of the customer journey. When a customer requests a return, offer suggestions based on their behavior and browsing and purchase history. Many customers naturally tend to look at returns as a process that includes some amount of hassle. A worthwhile suggestion may just convince them to opt for an exchange. 
  • Create an incentivized case for exchange. Because shoppers don’t lose much if they opt for returns - you do. To reduce a negative impact on cash flow, create incentives around exchanges. Offer discounts that promise to slash the price of the exchange. This way the customer is able to see the logic behind opting for an exchange. 
  • Introduce exchanges with a free shipping offer. And to make it financially viable, charge a small fee for the return. The comparative advantage on an exchange may turn out to be a good persuader. 

Should I have a separate gift returns policy?

It’s ideal to include a section on gift returns in your existing eCommerce product return policy.

It is because gifts can be a cause of confusion - often someone else orders a gift for someone else.

And if the latter wants to make the return without having the former know, it can become challenging. Here are a few ways to make returning gifts easier for customers. 

  • Create a gift option at checkout. Just as Amazon does, so that it becomes clear that the shipping address won’t be the same as the billing address. 
  • Include a set of return instructions. You can easily make this a protocol especially for those products that are to be delivered as gifts. This makes it easy for the end user to request for a return and have a more satisfying experience with your brand. 
  • Allow returns to a gift card. This way you can waive off any return or restocking fee. 

Is there a need to tweak the return policy for the festive season?

It is certainly better if parts of your larger return policy make space for the festive season. The reason is simple - festivities trigger more returns as more gifts are bought and sent, and that means you’ll have to do what you can to create a balance between profitability and customer satisfaction. 

  • Create a limited period for free returns. This will ensure the most serious returners swing into action without delay - while keeping away those that might change their mind around the corner. 
  • Introduce a temporary extension to the return window. This can be especially helpful for those who purchase products ahead of a particular festivity - only to find themselves cut short by the typical return window. 
  • Rework the store exchange policy. This can especially be helpful to avoid chaos and minimize customer frustration. Keeping separate return windows for in-store exchanges is a good idea. 

What does a typical returns management process look like?

The typical returns management process has 5 distinct stages. 

  • The customer receives the product, is disappointed and requests a return
  • Your business approves of the return (or not)
  • The returns solution provider picks up the product from the customer’s doorstep
  • The product is dropped back at the warehouse or sorting facility
  • The product is absorbed back into the current inventory

Do easy returns make customers come back for more?

The answer is a big “Yes”. Easy returns is another step where a business can go the extra mile to delight customers.

According to Klarna, 84% of UK online retail shoppers won’t go back to purchasing from a business if they don’t experience a seamless return process. 

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