Returns on the rise: How retailers can boost sustainability by reducing returns

The rise of online shopping has, unsurprisingly, seen return rates rise; 49% of shoppers have sent something back in the past year, and this grows to 60% for those aged 16-34. With no alternative other than to buy online, 38% say the pandemic has made them feel more confident when it comes to returning online orders.

This is costing retailers billions. Not only do they often have to cover the cost of the returns postage, packaging and processing, sometimes the value of the item has dropped so significantly by the time it’s been returned, it’s not worth reselling.

This doesn’t just hurt bottom lines, it’s also harming the environment. Every year, online returns generate five billion tons of rubbish and 15 million metric tons of CO2, and that’s just in the USA.

Yet 82% of shoppers say online retailers have a responsibility to reduce returns in order to boost sustainability – so what can businesses do to turn the tide and encourage more sustainable online shopping habits?

Educate your customers and give them more options

Chances are, most consumers are unaware how big an environmental impact they’re making just by returning a few items. This is a great opportunity to educate your customers and give them more choice when it comes to postage and packaging options. For example, Donald Russell gives shoppers the chance to choose more sustainable packaging at the checkout by paying a little more to cover the cost.

Other businesses, such as Rebound Returns, not only help retailers with managing their returns, they also inform them of their environmental impact, which can then be passed onto consumers. For example, if your customers could see how much carbon emissions are produced when they select next day delivery versus standard delivery, you could gently encourage more customers to only select the next day option if they really need it. If you could also tell them the environmental cost of returns, your customers may be more inclined to only buy them items they really need, rather than buying several options with the intention of returning some.

Improve your product pages and give customers as much information as possible

76% of shoppers would return or exchange items less often if retailers provided more accurate images and details on their product pages. The more information your customers have about your products, the more confident they will feel when making a purchase, so they’re less likely to buy multiple items ‘just in case’.

For example, if you sell clothing, every shopper knows that sizes differ between brands. It’s not just about providing accurate measurements, or even a ‘fit assistant’ guide like ASOS does, you need to back it up with customer reviews too. Feefo customers The White Company, Whistles and Phase Eight all uses Feefo’s Product Attributes to allow customers to rate the ‘fit’ of each product, so shoppers can see just how accurate the sizing information is.

The white company product attributes-1

Image source: The White Company

Feefo’s Smart Themes is another tool that helps give shoppers the information they’re looking for when buying online. Using artificial intelligence technology, Smart Themes automatically sorts customer feedback into themes, allowing shoppers to only look at the review they care about. For example, if someone was buying a dress, they could click on ‘quality’ or ‘fit’ to see all reviews that mention those topics.

Joe browns smart themes

Image source: Joe Browns

Listen to your customers to understand why returns rates are so high

Are items being damaged in transit due to poor packaging or rough treatment during the shipping process? Are customer accidentally ordering the wrong item? Is the quality of particular products letting you down? Unless you speak to your customers, you won’t know why they’re returning your items. That’s why it’s vital to survey your customers when they return an item. By listening to their honest opinions, you’ll be able to identify which areas of your business to improve, whether that’s adding more information to your product pages or changing delivery companies.

Surveys are private, easy to set up and can be distributed any way you want. You can find out more about Feefo Surveys here.

return survey example

Find out how Feefo can help reduce your return rates

If you want to become a more sustainable business, overlooking high return rates just isn’t an option.

Customer feedback boosts buyer confidence and helps shoppers make better purchase decisions by giving them the information they’re looking for from a trusted source. To find out how Feefo’s trusted feedback and our wide range of products and features can reduce your return rates, speak to one of our experts today.


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