Why customer returns are a growing problem

It seems there’s not a day goes by that we don’t see a headline about the impact of online stores (and business rates) effect on the high street. But whilst online shopping continues to grow at a pace, there is an elephant in the room for online fashion brands… customer returns.

I have a wife and 3 daughters and having discussed with them why they all seem to buy 2 or 3 sizes when shopping online, but only keeping one, it is all down to the variants in ‘standard’ sizing. i.e. A size 8 or 10 for one brand is not the same as a size 8 or 10 for other brands. We see this is a problem in men’s fashion too to an extent but for women’s sizing, it seems to be much more prevalent.

In a physical store that’s not a problem as you have the option to try things on, but online returns of those sizes that don’t fit can cause immeasurable problems (excuse the pun).

The cost of shipping the returns (often covered by many online retailers) is hefty, unpacking and checking goods is time-consuming, the amount of packaging wasted and the fuel used back and forth by delivery drivers is impacting the planet.

Size does matter

Why one retailer has variants in what a size 8, 10 or 12 is a mystery to me. Even if the industry cannot adhere to an agreed standard, it would at least seem logical that each brand should have standard sizes and they should be easily available to the online purchaser.

I think those fashion retailers who have their own brands should work with their manufactures to conform to EN13402, the current European standard. Having said that, I understand that only a handful of people are exactly the standard size, but having a size in one store that is exactly the same in another would at least seem to make sense.

Use your CRO solution to combat customer returns

So how can a CRO solution like Webtrends Optimize make life better for your customer and you as a business?

The talk in recent years has all been about personalisation. And you can’t get more personal in fashion retailing than getting your customers to look and feel good. So how can we give customers a better service and reduce the number of returns?

Before I try to answer that, I think that we need to come up with a term for buying the ‘same item but in multiple sizes’ – I will, therefore, use SIMS from here on in.

Some ideas…

Get the measure of your customer

Start by creating a hello bar or welcoming pop-up banner encouraging customers to add their sizing; not just size 8 or 10, but their actual measurements: height, waist, hips, leg & arm length etc. and a choice of build. Using drop-down selection fields this should be easy for the customer to complete. Offer free delivery on the first order as an incentive for successful completion.

Understand why

If a customer does want to return goods, get them to go back on your website to a page where you can ask them about the sizing and did the outfit conform to the sizing they expected. Explain that the information they provide will help you to assist them for further purchases. Use the same criteria as above.

Whilst on this point, having customers using a page on your website to request returns is a very valuable exercise. You can see more clearly that although customers may have spent hundreds of pounds with you, they could be categorised incorrectly. In this example, they could potentially be categorised as a loyal customer, but if they have returned two-thirds of the items they have ordered, this could mean that they belong in a different category.

Help them to help you

Urge customers to log-in at the beginning of their online journey by using welcome messaging so that you can access their sizing data. This and other previous purchase and browsing data can be used to fine-tune their future purchases via personalised product recommendations.

When a customer views a product, apart from showing them only sizes they have previously purchased it would be good to collate a size comparison and show it. Many retailers who only sell their own brands do this already, but for multi-brand retailers, this is not just a regular size chart but a size chart for that brand compared to other brands they have bought. If they have bought a size 10 in one brand and are looking to buy a size 10 in another, but your research says that this particular outfit is a little more generous in its sizing, perhaps a recommendation to buy a smaller size may help.

Gentle reminders

If SIMS are added to the basket use a lightbox to point them to the size comparison chart if they haven’t used it already.

Harsh but fair

Set a ‘returns without penalty’ criteria and if a customer has exceeded it, when they add SIMS to their basket, use a polite reminder lightbox message to say that they have previously returned x amount of items in the last x months and they may have to pay for returns if they purchase SIMS and same haven’t either added their sizing or used the size comparison chart.

In conclusion…

Many online retailers are looking at ways to penalise ‘serial returners’ but this may alienate them, and you may well lose a hard-won, loyal customer. Some of these suggestions may take time and effort to implement correctly but the reduction in customer returns can be “sizeable” (excuse the very obvious pun).

Anything you need to do to help reduce customer returns should, however, be introduced gradually unless you want to grab the headlines. So, continuous ab testing of pages, lightboxes and content is imperative.