How retailers can safeguard against serial returners

Serial returners are having a drastic impact on ecommerce retailers. In 2018, online returns from clothing cost UK retailers £70bn. With the roll-out of ‘buy now, pay later’ services, such as Klarna, are retailers encouraging shoppers’ non-committal attitude?

In recent months, retailers have taken firm action against those abusing returns policies. In fact, one fifth of stores have already amended returns policies, with a further 19 per cent planning to do so within the coming year, according to Barclaycard.

In a bid to address the matter, ASOS recently announced plans to clamp down on ‘serial returners’, blacklisting those who display suspicious purchasing patterns. The statement from the e-commerce giant emphasised the need to ensure their returns remained sustainable for the environment, but also for their profit margins.

While free delivery and returns have been a major driving force behind the consumer allure of the likes of ASOS, these newly introduced policies highlight that even industry leaders are not immune to the crippling cost of returns.

As the industry threatens to wipe away the notion of ‘free returns’ and instead charge customers to send unwanted products back, shoppers risk a lose-lose scenario whereby they will, ultimately, end up spending more money, whether they’re flouting the rules or not.

Understanding the motivators

Reducing the volume of returns must be a priority for all online retailers. Understanding the reasons consumers send products back in the first place is key to enabling this, and addressing the issue head on.

The social media led #OOTD (outfit of the day) trend, whereby shoppers purchase clothing for the sole purpose of posting pictures wearing new garments, is arguably a partial factor spurring high volumes of returns.

While some shoppers admit to doing this and then returning the items, retailers need to do more instil a sense of commitment. For example, product content which allows customers to ‘shop the look’, finding a variety of potential outfit pairings and options will spark imagination and demonstrate how the item could be a wardrobe staple.

Moreover, wholesome product content will be the key to preventing excessive returns.

Shoppers want to know exactly what they are purchasing. Our recent report, ‘Turning Browsers into Buyers’, found that one third (33%) of consumers find videos demonstrating products in different contexts are the most helpful in informing purchasing decisions.

This context-driven content will allow shoppers to imagine what the item might look like when they wear it, or how an item of furniture might look in their living room, for example – a crucial way to inspire action.

Moreover, compelling imagery is a differentiating factor for one fifth of buyers, who will move away from an online marketplace instantly if there are no pictures of the product they’re looking for. Retailers must, therefore, ensure the use of high quality, rich imagery, providing 360 product views.

Ultimately, it’s up to retailers to deliver a product that meets consumers’ expectations. If customers feel let down by a retailer when they receive an item, they’ll go elsewhere in future.

Ensure your product information strategy covers all bases

Retailers need to think carefully about how to optimise strategy behind product content to drive conversion. Instagram found that 87% of respondents have taken action after seeing product information on Instagram. This means clicking to buy the item or find out more information, or going on to research the product elsewhere.

With Instagram Checkout currently being tested in the US, it remains to be seen how the feature will impact consumer purchasing behaviours, propelling the platform as a destination for online shopping. As we found with our own study, Amazon is the first port of call for 45% of consumers.

With the emergence of social commerce and the proliferation of shopping features, such as Instagram’s recently launched shoppable ads, brands need to ensure their product information strategy is fit for purpose.

Consistency across all platforms is the crucial piece of the puzzle, be it; social media, marketplaces, third party retailers and own websites.

If consumers identify gaps or conflicting product information, they are likely to abandon their cart. Or worse still – purchase the product, only to return it.

Provide a unique product experience

With the rise of shoppable ads, Stories and ever-evolving content formats on Instagram, simple product information will no longer meet consumers’ needs.

Younger shoppers and ‘digital natives’ are in pursuit of immersive product experiences, across a range of platforms, channels and formats. What’s more, they speed at which they consume content has accelerated.

Brands and retailers need to keep up and stand out from the noise. Investment in seamless and attractive experiences which take consumers from product discovery to purchase will be key. Ultimately, if the customer experience is lacking, the returns cycle continues. 

By Steve Gershik, chief marketing officer, inRiver

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