7 Common Return Reasons and How to Prevent Them

September 13, 2022
| by Rebecca Fox

Being familiar with the most common return reasons for eCommerce purchases, such as the item not fitting or the item arriving damaged, helps you understand how to prevent them in the future.

Why do customers return items? Tracking the reasons customers give when returning products makes it easy to identify the most common return reasons and determine how to prevent them.

The 7 Most Common Return Reasons

1. Item Doesn’t Fit

Product size is a key factor and major reason for returns, especially in the fashion, footwear, and clothing industry. This is the most common return reason – 70% of customers say they returned products due to size or fit issues. 

Shoes that are the wrong size or a bathing suit that doesn’t fit are of no use to customers, and returning them becomes the only option.

How to Prevent This:

Provide Sizing Charts

Including clear sizing charts or measurement instructions on your product pages is a good idea so that your customers can be sure they’re choosing the right size.

Make sure to provide:

  • Multiple points of measurement
  • Instructions on how to measure each point on the body
  • Sizing guidance for the different brands that you carry

A great example of an eCommerce store helping their customers find the right size is Universal Standard’s ‘Find My Size’ page. 

Offer Easy Exchanges

Provide a convenient exchange process to encourage customers to swap out their misfitting items for something else instead of just asking for their money back. 

Make it easy to exchange items for a win-win situation – your customers end up with what they need, and you don’t lose the sale.

2. Item is Different Than Described

Product accuracy is important for reducing returns, because when a customer orders a product online based on the product description and receives something that doesn’t match those expectations, they’re likely to return it.

There are many ways that a product can end up being different than expected: color, pattern, size, material, durability, and more. Misguided expectations can often result from vague or confusing product descriptions.

How to Prevent This:

Write Clear Product Descriptions

Provide detailed product descriptions and high-quality product photos. Make up for your customers’ inability to physically touch the products by showing and describing textures and material, and providing views from different angles.

The goal is to show customers exactly what your products can do for them and for them to be able to visualize themselves using the products.

3. Item Arrived Damaged

Damaged items are a frequent return reason you may hear from your customers.

Products sometimes get damaged during shipping, and fragile items such as glassware, ceramics, and books are most likely to arrive damaged. Carefully packaging the products you ship out is extremely important for ensuring they will arrive safely.

If many of your products are being returned as defective, you may want to check your warehousing method because temperature, moisture, and other environmental factors may be damaging your inventory.

How to Prevent This:

Check Your Packaging

Make sure your packaging is appropriate for your products so they don’t get damaged along the way. 

Boxes should be only slightly larger than the products. Make sure they have enough space for padding to prevent the products from moving around during shipping.

If your products are fragile, such as ceramic plates or artwork, make sure they’re carefully wrapped in plenty of cushioning material.

Whether your eCommerce business fulfills and ships 10 or 10,000 packages a day, the way you package your products is a key component to getting your products into the hands of your customers undamaged.

Partner With Reputable Fulfillment Providers

Improper package handling or warehousing can result in damage to the products.

In order to minimize losses, partner with only reputable shipping and fulfillment companies, get shipping insurance, and set up a system to double-check items before shipping them out.

If you’re working with a new carrier or shipping partner, send a few test orders to make sure they deliver packages without being damaged. 

4. Item Arrived Late

Orders may get delayed due to unexpected shipping or supply problems. 45% of customers say they are unlikely to continue ordering from a company after one instance of late delivery.

How to Prevent This:

Work With a Reliable Shipping Carrier

Make sure you choose a reliable shipping carrier to take care of your shipments. Work with a shipping carrier that you can trust to get your deliveries out safely and on time.

When choosing a shipping carrier, do some test orders to make sure the carrier is consistent and reliable, and sticks to their time estimates.

Provide Constant Shipping Updates

Clear communication and transparency can help can reduce customer frustration, especially in situations where the shipping timeline is out of your control.

Send your customers real-time updates about their order, preferably with tracking numbers so they can be aware of the exact time frame in which they’ll receive their order.

Over-estimate your shipping times, so that you don’t promise something that you can’t commit to. While fast delivery is appealing to customers, knowing when to expect their delivery is far more important.

If the shipment does end up getting delayed, make sure to let your customers know. Customers want to hear the truth and know what’s going on.

Offering credit or free gifts to customers whose deliveries are late can help your store retain customers who might otherwise leave.

5. Wrong Item Was Sent

A common reason products get returned is the wrong item being received. This can often happen due to pick and pack errors during fulfillment. 

If a customer orders a set of ceramic plates and receives a set of bowls instead, they will naturally return the product, as they did not order bowls. Human error is the most common cause of these mistakes, which is more likely to occur when your fulfillment team is overworked or understaffed.

How to Prevent This:

Outsource the Fulfillment Process

One of the best ways to keep up with order fulfillment and improve its quality is by working with a Third-Party Logistics (3PL) Provider

Outsourcing to a 3PL can help you reduce your fulfillment errors and make sure your customers receive the right products.

Offer a Convenient Return Process

Make it easy for customers to let you know about the mistake and return the incorrect product they received.

Providing a self-service return portal makes the return process simple. By simplifying the online return process you’ll build trust and increase the likelihood of that customer buying again.

A return portal also lets you easily track return reasons and view insights into your customers’ return patterns.

6. Item is Poor Value

Returns due to poor value are one of the most challenging return reasons to address, as it can be difficult for your customers to accurately evaluate a product’s value when shopping online, and “poor value” can be very subjective.

While an occasional return due to poor value may be unavoidable, if you receive this complaint frequently it may be worth re-evaluating your pricing strategy or the language you’re using to describe your products’ value. 

How to Prevent This:

Be Transparent Up Front

Over-praising the quality of your products can lead to unfounded expectations. Be transparent about your products so your customers know exactly what to expect before purchasing. 

A good way to demonstrate the true value of your products is by including user-generated content, such as reviews, photos, and videos.

In fact, 2 out of 3 customers say they would be less likely to return a product if they had been able to read or view user-generated content before buying.

7. Customer Changed Their Mind

Customers changing their mind is a common reason for returns. Customers may receive their order and then change their mind and decide they don’t like the product or don’t need it anymore. 

Online shopping can be much more impulsive than shopping in-store. Customers are likely to order things they don’t need just because it’s so easy to buy with just a few clicks. 

For example, a last-minute earphone purchase made when ordering a laptop may be of no use if the customer receives the package and then realizes they already have a pair of earphones at home.

How to Prevent This:

Have a Clearly-Defined Return Policy

Be clear about your return policy – under what conditions you allow returns, how long customers have to decide they don’t want the products, and which products are eligible for returns.

Make it easy for your customers to find your eCommerce return policy. Display it clearly on product pages, at checkout, and in confirmation emails so that they know what to expect.

Take Action to Prevent the Most Common Return Reasons

Return reasons from misleading product descriptions to fulfillment mistakes can be prevented  when you know what the most common return reasons are and what you can do to prevent them.
Using a return portal can help you track what your store’s most common return reasons are. When you identify the most common reasons customers return items to your store, you can take action to prevent similar future returns.

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