5 Reasons Why People Return Products Purchased Online and 5 Ways To Prevent Returns

by DJ Sprague | September 4, 2020

Do You Account For The Reasons Why People Return Products In Your Operations?

“Incorporating product reviews is such an effective return prevention strategy that Petco reported that products with customer reviews had a 20.3% lower return rate than those that didn’t.” That’s from a pretty impressive product review case study from Businesswire that identifies one of the best ways to eliminate some of the reasons for people returning products they buy online.

Reviews represent one of many simple additions that can make a big difference in returns and reduce the reasons why people return products they buy. That Business Wire article went on to say that products with lots of reviews — over 50 per listing — had a whopping 135% lower return rate than products with just a few or no reviews — under 5 per listing. So, not only does having reviews make a big difference in the first place, having more is better.

What’s the Big Deal with Returns?

You probably already know why you should care about people sending things back, but just in case: Returns are one of the big three modifiers (along with allowances/closeouts and discounts) that give you your net sales figures. More returns mean more illusory revenue, and that’s never any fun.

Returns decrease your customer satisfaction by causing an avoidable inconvenience, which in turn reduces your positive reviews and star ratings, and reduces the Customer Lifetime Value (LTV), as they are less likely to buy from you in the future. 

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Plus, the return process costs money — a lot of it. Return delivery costs $381 billion in 2018 in the United States alone, and that’s just parcel service. That huge figure doesn’t even take into account receiving, inspection, and restocking processes.

The main point here is that you want gross and net as close as possible. You might not think you have much control over reducing returns — at least not compared to discounts — but you might be surprised at how effective certain marketing techniques are. It all comes down to identifying and eliminating the reasons why people return products they buy. 

Why Do Online Shoppers Return Items?

People return things for a number of reasons. Sometimes they just change their minds — everyone has been there. That said, there are some patterns. Here are five of the biggest reasons customers return items:

  1.       The item doesn’t fit, or they bought the wrong size
  2.       The merchandise doesn’t match the description provided
  3.       It came damaged
  4.       The customer no longer needs it
  5.       The item is of poor quality or doesn’t meet the customer’s expectations

Some of these things seem like they’re out of your control, and maybe they are. But others should be major red flags if they happen often, telling you it’s well past time for a marketing and advertising communications audit.

How Do You Reduce eCommerce Returns?

Those are just some of the reasons why people return products according to our customers. The underlying cause could be something you have a great deal of control over. With that in mind, here are five ways to reduce returns:

  1.       Customer-generated question-and-answer (Product Q&A) sections with customer-service involvement
  2.       Product reviews that are useful, consistent, and independent
  3.       Demo videos on unpacking, review, and comparison (a video is worth a thousand pictures, and a picture is worth a thousand words)
  4.       Skilled, professional photography with models, real-world comparisons, and so on
  5.       Accurate, detailed product descriptions: Features, ingredients, materials, origins, and the highest level of brand-appropriate honesty possible

And don’t forget, that video reviews, product unpacking videos, and demo videos are some of the most search engine and consumer-friendly content you can post. They are highly engaging, convincing, authentic, and search optimized. 

That’s it for the lists. The rest of this article will look at the big return generators and how some of these solutions could apply for your e-commerce operation.

image showing video reviews for beddys Reasons Why People Return Products

1. Bad Fit

Fashion e-commerce customers are famous for using poor fit a reason for return. Sometimes it’s valid. The size could be misrepresented, or not what they’re used to for that code. Sometimes, the bad fit is from botched alterations or people who do not know their size — due to customer error, to put it another way.

Sizing is one of the most common Q&A and review topics for clothes, shoes, protective equipment, dog costumes, or basically anything else with different size options. That often gives customers enough data points to make the right choice. Good pictures with human models (when appropriate) often seal the deal.

2. Wrong Description

Bad news: 91% of questions in Q&A sections are not answered in the original marketing copy. That means people are reading these descriptions — they’re just not getting the info they need.

The first step should be checking your product descriptions and photos. You want everything displayed in a way that accurately describes what you’re selling. You don’t have to go the auction-house route, adding rulers and color charts in your photos, but it helps to have a sense of scale people can relate to.

3. Damage

Yes: When customers return for damage, there’s a possibility that they dropped their items and then decided they wouldn’t pay. It could even be a random accident during shipping.

The problem is when many of these types of returns start coming in. Videos often help here, especially if you have a complicated assembly procedure. You might want to make unboxing videos in this case.

Reviews can also give you some insight into what’s happening. Do customers talk about the box arriving beaten up? Do they mention your product arriving in powder form when it’s supposed to be a lovely crystal vase? Listening to reviews can help you pinpoint the stage in your process that needs attention.

4. No Need for the Product

Unnecessary purchases are a fact of life. Maybe someone bought equipment to work on a car that’s been sold — situations and needs change.

Sometimes, there’s an opportunity to convince the customers to make creative use of the product they buy. Your sales and customer service teams might not think to recommend baking authentic Detroit pizza in that unnecessary drip pan, but there’s a chance that customer reviewers might have just the right creative reason not to return the merchandise. If your brand voice is a little alternative, you can also have some fun with your products during review or instructional videos.

5. Poor Quality

Fact: Budget items are typically not built to last a hundred generations and a thousand hurricanes. While you can’t say your products are “worth the money” or “decent quality for the price”, customer reviews can and often do say these things.

Even if brutal honesty isn’t part of your voice, sometimes it is exactly what people need in order to set realistic expectations. Reviews give you the option to temper and moderate the discussion while giving prospective customers access to objective information. Comparison videos are great for this too.


Why Do People Keep Products?

Finally, something else to think about is why people keep the products you sell. There’s one reason you want above all others: They knew what they were getting, and they love what they got. And the more you can offer accurate, detailed product descriptions through Product Q&A and Product Reviews, the more satisfied your customers will be post-purchase. 



Returns are expensive, and they erode your net profit margins while causing customer inconvenience and negative reviews.  To improve your net profits by reducing the number of reasons people return products, increasing your Customer Lifetime Value (LTV), and collecting more positive customer Ratings and Reviews, implement a solid Product Review and Product Q&A strategy.  

If you would like to learn more about reducing your return rates with Product Reviews, Video Reviews, and/or Product Q&A, schedule a demo with Shopper Approved today.  

This article is about: product return rate, customer lifetime value, product ratings and reviews, video reviews, customer satisfaction, product Q&A.

DJ Sprague
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