If your Shopify store sells sportswear or athleisure apparel, it’s a good time to be in business. When the world shifted toward a long-term work-from-home schedule, people’s wardrobes shifted with it. We’ve since seen a permanent 2.5% jump in workout and athleisure clothing items. Whether customers are actively working out, or just want to be comfy while they’re stuck on that conference call, they’re eager to pick up more workout apparel as a central part of their wardrobes.

When you’re starting or growing a sportswear ecommerce business on Shopify, however, you’ll soon come to find out that customer returns are a common part of the territory. While for brick and mortar apparel shops, only 3% of merchandise is returned, in ecommerce apparel businesses a whopping 25% of product purchases may end in a return or an exchange.

But rest assured, seeing your return rate go up doesn’t mean that your customers don’t like your sports bras and leggings — often, it simply means that a particular product wasn’t the right fit for them. In fact, 76% of first-time customers who said they had an easy returns experience would shop with a retailer again, while 33% of customers would abandon a retailer if they had a difficult returns experience. By providing your customers with a seamless and well optimized customer experience throughout the returns process, you’ll be able to encourage them to shop with you again in the future, and transform returns from a cost center into a profit center.

Let’s take a deeper look at why customer returns happen — and what you can do as a merchant to optimize the ecommerce process so that you can minimize your return rate, and improve the returns experience in a way that encourages customers to remain loyal to your brand.

Reasons for customer returns

Customers make returns for a wide variety of reasons, and getting insight into why it’s happening can help you optimize your ecommerce sales process to lower the return rate and ensure that your customer expectations are in line with what you can deliver.

One survey found that these were the primary reasons for product returns:

  • The size, fit, or color was wrong – 46%
  • The item was damaged, broken, or no longer functional – 15%
  • The product was misrepresented online – 12%
  • I didn’t like it – 9%
  • I changed my mind – 7%
  • The item didn’t arrive in time – 3%
  • I bought multiple items with the intention of returning some (bracketing) – 3%

While bracketing has become a common practice in online shopping, and you can’t account for your customers’ taste, many of these problems have easy solutions that you can head off.

While this covers the broad scope of reasons for returning items, it’s helpful to get a detailed look at why customers are returning your items specifically.

When your customers are requesting a refund or exchange, make sure to include a multiple choice questionnaire that asks them why they’re returning the item. This can give you deep insights on which items are being returned because they don’t match up with their photos or description, which items fit smaller than the customer expected, or which items often arrive with damage.

Using a returns management automation platform like Loop, you can analyze your return reasons on a category or product level to understand trends: For example, does your new line of yoga tops run smaller than customers expected? If so, you’ll be able to include a “runs small, recommend sizing up” description on your website product page to ensure that customers are able to get the right product the first time around. Providing additional product imagery, including customer reviews and photos, and providing “real fit” details can also help you make sure that the products match up to customer expectations more often than not.

Improving the returns experience

Still, even if you go the extra mile to set customer expectations, some customers will still want to return products to your Shopify store – so how can you deliver a superior customer experience that will encourage them to try out other merchandise from your brand?

While you can process returns manually within your Shopify dashboard, the process can be cumbersome and slow. Fortunately, there are a range of Shopify apps, including Loop, that you can use to help you optimize the returns process across every element, from initiating returns to printing shipping labels to packaging to drop-off and return shipping.

By pairing a returns management solution like Loop with a 3PL like Whiplash, for instance, you’ll be able to set up a streamlined process for automated returns management so that your customers can manage self-service returns and exchanges, with products arriving to your fulfillment center quickly at minimal cost so that they can be resold immediately.

Customers will be able to initiate returns without waiting for authorization, and when they fill out their reason for returning an item, they’ll receive personalized recommendations for exchange alternatives: If the sports bra they ordered wasn’t supportive enough, might they consider a high-support alternative? If they didn’t like the print on the leggings they received, would they be interested in the same leggings with a different pattern?

With Loop, your Shopify store will be able to offer real-time inventory options for exchanges that will encourage customers to choose an alternative item instead of requesting a refund. The process is so easy that they’ll be able to complete an exchange without even returning to their shopping cart, and it’s seamless for you on the back-end as well.

Building customer loyalty with better returns

Whether you sell apparel for running, yoga, HIIT, or simply lounging around the house in comfort, your customers will appreciate the opportunity to complete hassle-free returns when an item doesn’t work for them — especially when you can offer relevant product recommendations that are a better fit for them.

By keeping sportswear customers engaged in your buyers’ journey, you’ll be able to continually market new merchandise to them and keep them coming back for more — one sweat session after another.

Want to see how Loop can help you optimize your sportswear return process? Contact us for a demo.