3 Strategies to Empower Your Customers and Reduce Your Returns

Free shipping and lenient return policies have become the norm in online shopping (thank you Zappos!) and are largely responsible for the booming Internet retail industry today. But now, asos_quotewith nearly 1/3 of all online sales being returned, companies need to focus on how to reduce return rate, without raising costs or changing policies.

Studies have reported that the average returned item costs online sellers about $12 just in handling costs—which doesn’t include the cost of shipping, repackaging or fixing damaged products, which can run into the hundreds of dollars. In fact, ASOS’ Chief Executive, Nick Robertson, recently said a 1% fall in returns would immediately add $16 million to the company’s bottom line.

When it comes to returns there is little that can be done to reduce handling costs as products still must be received, inspected and restocked on warehouse shelves, which is largely a manual process. This means one must focus on different areas of the process in order to positively affect this costly issue.  Here are three strategies that retailers, manufacturers and distributors alike are utilizing to reduce returns and attack the problem head-on:

1. Enhance the quality of your e-commerce images

The images you present online are often the first impression to your brand and, in some cases,  the only opportunity a customer has to view the product they are purchasing. The power of visualization should not be underestimated (just ask Instagram!). High quality images with extensive visual information accomplish two objectives: they provide your customer with the additional confidence they require to complete the purchase and they minimize any future disappointment by accurately and completely representing the product sample_shoesold.  Don’t prevent your customers from getting a “real” feel for your product by skimping on visual information. Your rich images can be used strategically to replicate the experience of picking up a product  and examining it, or they can be an afterthought. Offering the ability to zoom, pan, and spin 360° & 3D is the next best thing to shopping in a bricks-and-mortar environment.

2. Include product reviews

Just as visual information gives the consumer confidence, product reviews do so as well. Over 70% of Americans say that they look at product reviews before making a purchase decision. And nearly 63% of consumers indicate they are more likely to purchase from a site if it has product ratings and reviews. Consumers evaluate their potential purchases by placing trust in other consumers—often a much higher level of trust than with a brand. Because consumers allow themselves to be persuaded by previous buyers, it’s apparent that reviews tap into consumer psychology, or a phenomena known as social proof, in which people tend to believe that the decision and actions of others reflect the correct behavior in a given situation.

3. Offer real-time easily accessible customer service

Enhanced product images and product reviews will build purchase confidence, but there will always be new questions that are not properly answered on your product page. Real-time, 24/7 customer service is the last piece you need to empower your customers to make an informed purchase decision. Forrester Research found that 44% of online consumers say that having questions answered by a live person, while in the middle of an online purchase, is one of the most important features a website can offer. Furthermore, another survey found that 38% of respondents have made purchases due to a live chat session. If you can get new questions answered before the purchase you can avoid frustration down the road and more importantly, avoid returns and build loyal customers.

Knowing how easy it is to dramatically reduce the number of returns on your ecommerce website makes it hard to believe return rates are still so high! The concept is simple: Information, especially visual information, is the most powerful tool you can use to empower your customers. Enlightening, engaging and informing your customers allows them to make confident decisions. And, informed decisions lead to the highest likelihood of satisfaction and the lowest likelihood of product returns.

Claire McCracken
Claire McCracken
c.mccracken@snap36.com

Claire is a Marketing Coordinator at Snap36. She recently graduated from the University of Dayton with a bachelor's degree in Communications and Marketing. Before working at Snap36, Claire had a marketing internship with a construction company in Chicago.

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