In the D2C ecommerce landscape, product returns are a common occurrence. Because shoppers are purchasing products sight unseen from online retailers, they don’t have firsthand knowledge of how the product will look, feel, or function — or, in the case of shoes or apparel, how the products will fit on their bodies.

All of that uncertainty means that customers often gravitate towards brands with flexible return policies, and are likely to return products that don’t meet their expectations. Depending on the industry, Shopify found an average return rate of 20 to 30 percent.

As an ecommerce merchant, it’s in your interest to understand which types of products are returned most frequently and why. Here’s a breakdown of some of the most common types of returned products with data from our ecommerce returns benchmark report and other sources, and what you can do to reduce your return rate.

Most commonly returned products

  1. Apparel, footwear, and accessories
    It likely comes as no surprise that apparel has the highest return rate among online purchases, with an average return rate of 26%, closely followed by bags & accessories (19%), shoes (18%), and other accessories (13%). Online shoppers can’t always tell if the color and style as shown in the product details are an accurate representation of the product, and the sizing may run small or large. Additionally, many online shoppers participate in “bracketing,” in which they will purchase a selection of similar products but only intend to keep the one they like the best.

    While the majority of returned products (81%) are due to defective or damaged products, most of the other returns occur because the item doesn’t fit, doesn’t match the description, or the shopper doesn’t like the item. These are all solvable problems.

    To lower your return rate for apparel and other wearable products, it’s important to include product details and photos that give your customers an accurate representation of what they’ll be getting. Include product photography that shows the product both on its own and on a model, or, ideally, several models of various body types, for a more accurate representation of how customers will look in your clothing. Customer reviews are also important here: Encourage your online shoppers to fill in details about what size they typically wear and their body type, and ask them about the product fit. If customer reviews frequently say that the product runs small or large, you can include a disclaimer in the product listing and ensure that your customers are aware of the sizing before making a purchase. Incentivizing exchanges can also help you lower your refund rate: The average Loop apparel brand sees a 26.7% retention rate via product exchanges.
  2. Consumer electronics
    Eleven percent of consumer electronics such as TVs and smartphones end up as product returns — and while you may assume many of those are due to product defects, that’s not necessarily the case. A 2019 survey found that 41% of online shoppers had returned a non-defective electronics product in the previous 12 months. Of these product returns, 61% occur soon after purchasing, due to frustration or confusion around installing or using the product.

    In these cases, offering in-depth product education, both prior to and after the purchase, will be essential for lowering your consumer electronics return rate. Make sure that you provide your customers with access to tutorial videos and live customer support to help them understand how to set up and use the product. You might also offer ongoing workshops and webinars that showcase different use cases for the products. And if the products require installation, build a network of local partners who can come to customers’ houses to help them install the products.

    By ensuring that your customers feel supported both during the research phase and during the post-purchase experience, you’ll be able to help them overcome any frustration or confusion they feel as they are onboarding with the product, leading to lower return rates.
  3. Food and beverages
    Food and beverages also had an 11% return rate according to the Shopify study, and while we don’t have detailed reasons for these returns, we know that such purchases can be easily damaged by poor handling or changes in weather, which may make the products dangerous to consume.

    To lower your return rate for food and beverage products, it’s important to make sure your supply chain is fully optimized for proper storage, handling, and packaging throughout the product’s journey to the end customer. Make sure that you have proper temperature control for the products, both during warehousing and during the shipping process, to reduce the risk of spoilage. High-quality, insulated packaging is also important to reduce the risk of products breaking or spoiling during transit, so make sure that you’re investing in packaging that’s designed to keep your products safe.

    When it comes to returning consumable products, you already know that the products can’t be resold and must be written off — so it’s a great idea to focus on building a sustainable return policy. Rather than asking the customer to ship back the product to your warehouse, where it will simply end up in a landfill, simply provide a “returnless refund,” granting them a refund or store credit while encouraging them to throw away or re-gift the unwanted product. This will help you save money on reverse logistics, while ensuring that your customer is satisfied with a refund or replacement product.
  4. Bags and luggage
    Bags and luggage have a 10 percent return rate among online shoppers. When customers travel, it’s important for them to make sure that the luggage they take with them is both durable and comfortable — and it can be difficult to determine how well a particular piece of luggage hits the mark before having the chance to try it out in person.

    Detailed product description pages and videos can be helpful in this case, with interior close-ups to showcase interior storage space and 3D visuals that enable online shoppers to zoom in on different compartments. It’s also important to showcase the luggage’s dimensions: Can it fit in an airplane’s overhead storage compartment? How much clothing can it store? Videos of the product in motion, showcasing what a traveler might actually pack, can help give customers a better sense of how the product will fit their lifestyle.

Automating your returns process

While you can cut down on product returns by improving your product pages with better descriptions and multimedia, it’s also important to optimize the returns process for the customers who still need to return products.

Using a returns automation platform like Loop can help. With Loop, you’ll be able to offer instant refunds or store credit, encouraging customers to swap their returned product for another item they’ll like better. You can set conditions for returns, determining whether they’ll go back into inventory or to a recycling plant, or whether the customer can keep the item, with no involvement from customer support — speeding up the returns process and ensuring that you’re able to determine the most logical outcome for each returned product.

Want to retain more revenue from your returned products? Loop can help. Get in touch for a demo.