Lean Into This Digital Content Strategy to Combat Rampant Returns
It’s estimated that 30 percent of apparel and shoes purchased online are returned. And per the National Retail Federation, the projected cumulative cost of returns last year was $761 billion (this equates to 17 percent of all purchases, an 11 percent increase from our previous year's research).
Returns are an expensive proposition for retailers. As a result, many retailers are seeking to end free return policies to stop the bleeding. However, our survey of 9,000-plus consumers shows this move could be irreparable for retailers due to consumer backlash, as 87 percent of consumers polled say they would likely stop shopping with a brand or retailer that stopped offering free returns; and nearly four in 10 (39 percent) say they would be very likely to do so.
Shoppers expect flexible — and ideally free — returns. Eight in 10 (81 percent) say that free shipping is something they consider when making a purchase online. Offering a free, flexible return policy can be a big competitive advantage. Since free returns seem obligatory, retailers should shift their focus to taking steps to reduce the flood of returns. Knowing how to do this starts with having an understanding of the reasons consumers make returns.
Eighty-eight percent of consumers say they return products purchased online at least sometimes, with clothing, footwear and electronics the top categories for returns. Consumers cite myriad reasons for returning products purchased online. Eighty-one percent have returned products purchased online because they were damaged or defective. Poor fit is a reason for returns among 75 percent of consumers. The No. 3 reason for returns is that the item didn’t match its description; 56 percent of consumers cited this as a reason.
When shopping online, it can be harder to access fit and other product qualities. Therefore, the onus is on retailers to provide tools that give shoppers a clear, accurate picture of what to expect from a product — and help them to choose the right size. Collecting and displaying user-generated content (UGC) can help retailers dramatically decrease returns due to poor fit and a product not meeting expectations. Our survey results show UGC is a powerful way to down-regulate returns. Consider the following:
- Seventy-two percent of consumers are less likely to return a product they purchased online if able to read questions from other consumers and submit their own via the Q&A section on the product page prior to purchase.
- Being able to see photos and videos from other consumers before making a purchase reduces the return likelihood for 69 percent of shoppers.
- And 66 percent of shoppers say the ability to read ratings and reviews prior to purchase decreases their likelihood to make a return.
Younger consumers are especially impacted by the presence of UGC: 82 percent of Gen Z shoppers and 76 percent of millenials say they would be less likely to return products if they were able to first browse questions asked by other shoppers or submit their own via Q&A functionality on the product page. In comparison, 66 percent of Gen Xers and 61 percent of baby boomers said this was the case.
It’s impossible to completely eliminate returns. However, there is something brands and retailers can do to significantly cut down on them: provide shoppers with access to plenty of UGC. Better yet, more detailed product reviews leads to more informed buyer decisions, leading to more satisfied customers and fewer returns. As retailers start planning now for the upcoming holiday shopping season, factoring in this strategy can be the antidote for excessive returns.
Andrew Smith is vice president of marketing for PowerReviews, a conversion-first UGC vendor.
Related story: How Brands and Retailers Can Combat Fake Reviews