7 Common Return Reasons and How to Prevent Them
Rebecca Fox

January 15, 2024

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

The most common return reasons can be divided into several categories:

  • 65% of items returned are due to customer selection reasons (i.e “Changed my mind”, “Doesn’t fit”)
  • 13% are due to catalog issues (ie “Not as described/expected”)
  • 9% are due to product or delivery issues (i.e “Arrived damaged”, “Arrived late”, “Wrong item”)
  • 13% are due to “Other” reasons

Breaking down each of these categories makes it easier to understand the reasons behind returns and address each individually, in order to reduce return rates for those reasons.

Using ReturnGO, you can track your return reasons to identify trends and patterns and take action accordingly.

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’ve returned products due to size or fit issues. 

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

How to Prevent This

To prevent items being returned due to fitting issues:

Provide Sizing Charts

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

Make sure to include:

  • 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. 

Making it easy to exchange items creates 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

To prevent items being returned due to description issues:

Write Clear Product Descriptions

Provide detailed product descriptions and high-quality product photos. Make up for your customers’ inability to physically touch and try out 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

To prevent returns due to the item arriving damaged:

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

Since improper package handling or warehousing can result in damage to the products, make sure to partner with only reputable shipping and fulfillment companies.

Additionally, it’s a good idea to 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

Late deliveries can be a significant challenge, with 45% of customers unlikely to continue ordering from a company after a single instance of late delivery. 

Unexpected shipping or supply problems can lead to order delays, demonstrating the need for an effective logistics strategy in order to maintain customer satisfaction and minimize returns associated with late deliveries.

How to Prevent This

To prevent returns due to items arriving late:

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 reduce customer frustration, especially in situations where the shipping timeline is out of your control.

Send your customers real-time updates about their order – use ReturnGO’s order tracking portal and notifications to keep customers up-to-date on when to expect their order. 

While fast delivery is appealing to customers, knowing when to expect their delivery is far more important. 97% of customers say that delivery tracking is important. Customers appreciate transparency and want to know what’s going on, so if the shipment does end up getting delayed, make sure your customers are updated.

Offering store 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 for products being returned is that customers receive the wrong item. This can often happen due to pick and pack errors during fulfillment.

For example, 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

To prevent returns due to the wrong item being sent:

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 your fulfillment logistics to a 3PL can help you reduce 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, and by simplifying the online return process you can build trust and increase the likelihood of customers buying again, even if they received the wrong item.

6. Item is Poor Value

Returns by customers complaining about poor value are one of the most challenging return reasons to address, as it can be difficult for 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 claims 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

To prevent customers returning items and claiming they’re poor value:

Be Transparent Up Front

Exaggerating the quality of your products can lead to unrealistic 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, and 80% of customers prefer to buy from an online store if it featured UGC images and videos.

7. Customer Changed Their Mind

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

Online shopping can be much more impulsive than shopping in-store, and customers are likely to order things they don’t need simply because it’s so easy to buy with only 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

To prevent returns due to customers changing their mind:

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.

Provide Educational Content

Providing informative content, such as tutorials and styling guides, can significantly reduce returns by addressing uncertainties and changing preferences. 

By offering insights on how to use the product, you can boost the perceived value and align expectations. This informed approach fosters customer confidence, resulting in a more satisfying shopping experience and minimizing the likelihood of returns due to post-purchase changes of mind.

Shifts in Return Reasons Over Time

It’s important to regularly analyze your return reason data to identify any shifts in the most common reasons for specific products. Tracking these trends can reveal issues that need to be addressed.

Based on ReturnGO data, 24% of stores experience a shift in the most common return reason over the course of a quarter.

Various factors can drive shifts in return reason trends:

  • Supply chain and logistics issues – Delays, disruptions, or changes in the supply chain or production can result in late deliveries, impacting the occurrence of “late delivery” returns. Changes to suppliers or logistics partners may further influence this statistic.
  • Order fulfillment accuracy – Issues in the order fulfillment process, such as picking and packing accuracy, can directly affect the likelihood of customers receiving the incorrect product. 
  • Product packaging and handling – Changes in product packaging and handling procedures can impact the likelihood of products arriving damaged.
  • Quality control – Adjustments to quality control measures during manufacturing can influence the likelihood of products being defective or damaged.
  • Customer preferences and trends –  Changes in customer preferences, influenced by evolving trends, fashion, or tastes, significantly impact return patterns. 
  • Sizing/description issues – Changes to sizing charts, product descriptions, and product manufacturing can affect returns due to sizing or product expectations.

Some of the most common shifts in top return reasons are:

  • “Changed my mind” to “Does not fit”
  • “Does not fit” to “Changed my mind”
  • “Does not fit” to “Not what I expected”
  • “Not what I expected” to “Does not fit”

When Return Reason Shifts Should Prompt Investigation

It’s important not to read too much into minor shifts in top return reasons from quarter to quarter. Fluctuations between similar reasons like “Changed my mind” and “Doesn’t fit” are normal and not necessarily concerning.

Seeing returns oscillate between Reason A and Reason B over time also doesn’t indicate a problem on its own. As long as the rates remain comparable, this type of periodic shift back and forth is usually nothing to worry about.

You should, however, pay attention when:

  • An uncommon return reason becomes common If a historically uncommon return reason rapidly gains popularity for a particular product, this could indicate an issue. For example, if the “Arrived damaged” rate for a certain product doubles or triples in one quarter, that’s a clue that something is not right. A change like this can indicate a new issue with handling, packaging, or delivery that requires investigation.
  • There’s a rise in a problematic return reason – It can be an issue when a problematic return reason becomes one of the dominant reasons across your catalog. If returns for reasons like “Arrived damaged”, “Wrong item sent”, or “Never received” continually increase, it likely indicates a systemic fulfillment, inventory, or delivery failure that needs addressing.
  • “Other” remains the top return reason over time – If “Other” remains the prevailing return reason over multiple quarters, your predefined return reasons might not be capturing the true root causes driving returns. In this case, manually analyzing the explanations customers provide under “Other” can shed light on gaps that need to be filled by adding or updating existing return options.

In short, while moderate return reason fluctuations can be expected, major spikes in problematic reasons or lack of clarity into reasons can be worth looking into. 

A detailed analysis into the root cause can help you address the issues and improve the customer experience.

How to Address Shifts in Return Reasons

Here are some strategies for addressing return reason shifts that you want to improve:

  • Catalog issues – Make sure your product descriptions are clear and include key features, specifications, and limitations as well as high-quality images, sizing, and reviews. This can help build trust and minimize dissatisfaction that can lead to returns due to unmet expectations.
  • Customer communication and expectations – Ensure clear and accurate communication with customers about product details, features, and delivery expectations. This can help manage customer expectations, reducing the risk of “not what I expected” and “late delivery” return reasons.
  • Warehouse rearrangement – Make your warehouse more efficient by organizing products logically, grouping similar items, and arranging based on size, weight, or popularity. Clearly labeled storage helps with identification and retrieval, minimizing the risk of delivering incorrect items.
  • Tracking of order delivery – Improve your tracking systems and provide real-time order updates to reduce “late delivery” return reasons. Utilize advanced technology like ReturnGO’s order tracking solution for a smooth customer experience.
  • Low-quality materials – Make sure to monitor manufacturing batches to ensure high-quality production. Set up a quality control system with real-time inspection and testing, establish measurable quality checkpoints, and regularly calibrate manufacturing equipment to prevent variations that can impact product quality.
  • Customer support processes – Enhance the effectiveness of your customer support and resolution processes. Customer support that is responsive and helpful can reduce the likelihood of certain return reasons, and reduce return rates overall.

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 ReturnGO’s returns management system can help you track what your store’s most common return reasons are. When you can identify the most common reasons customers return items to your store, you can take action to prevent similar future returns.

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