How to avoid product returns is one of the most discussed topics in the retail industry. Particularly in the fashion sector, online retailers have to battle with the increasing number of selective returns. However, online retailers have now developed various strategies to tackle this challenge.
For retailers, returns are a nuisance yet they are part of the general business risk. Those that provide fashion products solely online should expect a return rate of over 50 per cent. Consumers' product returning behaviour is facilitated by two key factors:
- Comprehensive right of cancellation and return. Customers ordering online have to have the same rights as those shopping in stores. Therefore, they must be provided with a sufficient amount of time to check the condition of goods they ordered.
- Assumption the return costs are paid by the retailer. Contrary to the right to cancel, the seller can take active counter measures in this case. Many customers are used to shops, particularly large ones, paying the return costs even assuming the cost of returning when a product is worth less than 40 euros. This expectation heavily influences online purchasing behaviour as a whole.
Alternatives to selective returns
Selective returns occur most often among online fashion shops. The customer orders an item in different sizes, colours, or designs. Whatever they don't like or doesn't fit is sent back. This return behaviour generally creates an unprofitable flow of goods between the retailer and the customer and vice versa.
For the retailer, selective returns don't just mean a lost turnover but also additional costs for their returns management. For this reason, some online retailers are taking drastic measures to get so-called "top returners" under control. As a survey of nearly 280 online retailers carried out by Trusted Shops shows, almost 50 per cent of retailers is stopping supplying to such customers. Although a failure to supply means a loss of turnover, it avoids any additional costs.
In order to keep the customer and positively influence their return behaviour at the same time, some online shops try to minimise selective returns at the product presentation stage.
Sizes and information on the fit should be displayed in the centre of the product page and not hidden somewhere at the edge. Detailed information on the fit gives customers an idea whether a piece of clothing corresponds with a standard size or not. Therefore, providing this type of information in each item's master data may help customers to make a well-informed decision which may result in lower number of returns.
Of course, customer-oriented layout also means that such additional information is always available to the customer when they need it.
A model with an average body type, usually in a female and a male version, is used as a static digital dummy. Users can then 'try out' individual pieces of clothing on the model's body. The digital model is available in three views: from the front, from behind and from the side.
Virtual fashion show
KnickerPicker.com, an online shop for lingerie and sportswear, took a different approach; their dummy is not based on a photographed model but on a video.
Users can choose from five models with different body types and select clothes which they want to see 'in action'. Users can then see the model walking either towards them or away from them in the clothing they selected. As these are video recordings of real models, the virtual fashion show has a very realistic feel.
Fit and size tables as well as digital dummies and models can help reduce the number of selective returns. Nevertheless, these are currently just standalone solutions. This also includes augmented reality solutions available on the market.
In the future, we may see customers inputting their own body measurements into a system linked with information on the fit from the item's master data. When choosing a size, the shop system could also suggest size corrections based on this data. Combined with a digital try-on service using personal videos, this could significantly reduce selective returns.
Recording could take place using body scanners that are already in use in some stores today. The customer can be measured automatically and can then store their measurements on a smartphone, USB stick or other data carrier, allowing them to take it with them anywhere they go.