Product returns are an ongoing frustration for the majority of brands and retailers — especially those that sell online. CNBC reports that 15-40% percent of online purchases are returned, compared to 5-10% of in-store purchases.
And it seems the problem is only getting bigger.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, more consumers are shopping online. As a result, there’s been a big surge in eCommerce sales. In fact, eMarketer predicts eCommerce sales will grow 18% this year. What’s more, Deloitte expects online spending will grow by 25-35%.
Of course, this is great news for eCommerce retailers, especially after a very challenging year. But an inevitable (and costly) side effect of this explosive growth will be a surge in returned merchandise.
At first glance, returns might seem like an unavoidable problem. While there’s no way to completely eliminate returns, there are simple ways to leverage reviews and product Q&A to dramatically reduce them. This post will explore how reviews and Q&A can help you reduce returns — as well as seven ways winning brands are leveraging this content for maximum impact.
How Reviews and Questions & Answers Help Curb Returns
You probably have a good understanding of how user-generated content (UGC) like reviews and Q&A can positively impact sales. According to our friends at PowerReviews, businesses can experience a 65% lift in conversion by displaying reviews and a 6x sales lift when using Q&A technology.
But this content can also be a powerful tool for reducing returns.
A top reason consumers return merchandise is because in one way or another, it didn’t meet expectations. Maybe the color of a sweater looked different than it did in the pictures. Or perhaps the quality of a toy wasn’t what the shopper expected.
If you want to reduce returns (and who doesn’t?), you’ve got to give your shoppers all of the information they need to form realistic expectations. Of course, a key way to do that is to provide detailed, honest product descriptions, as well as photos and videos of the product in action. But it’s also important for shoppers to understand how products did or didn’t work out for other shoppers like them. They get that information by reading reviews.
After reading a product description and reviews, a shopper might still have some unanswered questions. If they’re not able to get a quick answer, two things are likely to happen. Either they won’t buy the product, or they’ll take a risk and order it anyway — especially if you have a generous return policy. If it doesn’t work out, they’ll return the product.
But when you have Q&A software on your product pages, shoppers can easily ask questions — and get quick answers. And that helps them make informed purchase decisions
When you provide your shoppers with the ability to read reviews from others like them and ask questions, they get a much better idea of what to expect from a product. That means there are fewer surprises when the item arrives in the mail. And the shopper is less likely to return the product.
7 Ways to Leverage Reviews and Q&A to Reduce eCommerce Returns
Reviews and Q&A are powerful tools to help you reduce your return rates. But what can you do to maximize the impact of this content?
Let’s explore seven ways winning brands are leveraging reviews and Q&A to reduce eCommerce returns.
- Collect Reviews
Reviews can be a powerful tool to set shopper expectations — and reduce returns. So be sure you have plenty of reviews available for plenty of your products.
Most shoppers won’t write reviews without being prompted. So be sure to send your customers emails or SMS messages after they’ve made a purchase, asking them to submit reviews for the items they bought. Here’s a great example from Nordstrom that’s short, sweet and straight to the point.
Also, be sure the process for writing a review is easy and can be completed from a mobile device. If a shopper encounters a problem while writing a review, they’ll probably abandon the process altogether.
Finally, aim to collect detailed reviews, as they’re the most helpful to future shoppers. For example, this review for a backpack provides lots of details about the shopper’s experience with the product. After reading this review, we’ve got a really good understanding of the features of the bag -- as well as how much it can hold.
This is much more helpful than a 5-star review that simply reads, “This bag is great!”
A great way to generate detailed reviews is to provide prompts or ask the shopper specific questions.
For example, this apparel company asks reviewers to answer specific questions about themselves and their experience with the product in question. Reviewers are also asked to provide details about how the product fit.
- Showcase Your Reviews
Be sure reviews are front and center on your product pages, rather than hidden behind tabs or at the bottom of the page. And make sure this content is easy to read on mobile devices.
Also, be sure your review content is easy for shoppers to interact with. For example, shoppers should be able to search, sort and filter reviews to find the content that’s most relevant to them.
Finally, display the demographic information you collected in step one to help shoppers find reviews written by others like them. For example, we can see that this five star review for a sweatshirt was written by KatieRose4, who is between the ages of 25 and 34, lives in New Jersey, has a slender body top and a “cool and casual” sense of style.
By displaying demographic information, future shoppers can better understand what products did (and didn’t) work for other people like them. And that’ll help you keep returns at bay.
- Showcase Size and Fit Information from Reviews
When a consumer is shopping in a brick-and-mortar store, they can try on an item of clothing to determine whether it fits. But that’s not possible when the consumer is shopping online.
In order to reduce returns, it’s important to provide shoppers with plenty of information to help them determine the right size to purchase. One way to do that is to showcase the aggregate size and fit information shoppers have provided in their reviews. For example, let’s say a customer is shopping for a pair of shoes. She’s never purchased from this particular brand before, so she’s not sure how the shoes run. The aggregate fit information from other shoppers lets her know the shoes run a bit small. So she decides to purchase the shoes in a half size bigger than she normally wears. The shoes arrive, and they fit perfectly. The shopper loves the shoes, and the brand avoids a return.
- Collect and Display Photos and Videos
Photos and videos help shoppers make informed purchase decisions, especially when they’re shopping online and can’t see the product in person first.
You likely have plenty of beautiful, professional photos of your products. And don’t get us wrong; that content is important. But when you display photos submitted by your customers, future shoppers can see what your products look like in “real life.” That helps set their expectations -- and it decreases the likelihood that they’ll return the product.
Add a button to your review submission form, like the one in this example, that allows shoppers to submit photos and videos.
Then, display the visual content you collect so future shoppers can make better purchase decisions.
- Allow Shoppers to Ask Questions
No matter how detailed your product descriptions, some of your shoppers will still have questions. Make sure they have an easy way to ask those questions — and get quick answers. Otherwise, they may purchase products they’re not sure about — and may end up returning merchandise.
A great way to welcome questions is to add Q&A software to your product pages. Shoppers can search the questions that have already been asked. If they still have an unanswered question, they can ask it — and get a quick response from the brand.
Here’s a great example from a popular health and beauty brand. This shopper, Farkle, posts a question on the product page for a moisturizing gel, asking about the differences between this product and another one. If she wasn’t able to ask this question, she may have ended up purchasing a product that didn’t fit her needs — and then returning it.
But because she was able to get a quick answer to her question, she understands which product will work better for her. She can make a confident purchase, and the brand can avoid an unnecessary return.
- Respond Quickly to Reviews and Q&A
Regularly responding to reviews — especially the negative ones — is an important way to turn bad situations around and build customer relationships. But it’s also a powerful way to reduce returns.
Let’s say you get a one star review. In the body of the review, the customer describes her poor experience — and mentions she plans to return the product. But based on the text, you determine she’s not using the product as intended. When you quickly respond with some tips, you’re helping the shopper have a better experience with the product. And when you do so, she’ll be less likely to return it.
It’s important to respond quickly (ideally, in real time) to your shoppers’ questions via Q&A, too. If you don’t, they’re likely to purchase from another company — or they’ll buy a product they’ll end up returning.
If you’re a Reputation Studio customer, you can easily manage and respond to all of your reviews and Q&A from one platform — regardless of where they were written. You can also receive alerts when a review falls below a certain star level or a review or question includes certain keywords. That way, you can quickly respond to the content that requires the most urgency.
- Mine Insights from Your Reviews and Q&A
Your reviews and Q&A are full of great, actionable insights. When you tap into these insights, you can make improvements to your products and experiences — and reduce your product returns.
If you’re a Reputation Studio customer, it’s easy to uncover actionable insights from your reviews and Q&A that can help you cut back on returns.
For example, you might notice a lot of one and two star reviews coming in for a winter coat. It appears people love the style and weight of the coat, but many mention that the zipper sticks. This is probably a reason customers return the coat, too, but without reviews, you might not even be aware of it. So, you work with the manufacturer to improve the zipper. Future shoppers love the coat, and you get far fewer returns.
You can also leverage insights from Q&A to ensure your future shoppers have the information they need to make great purchase decisions. For example, maybe you notice that shoppers ask a lot of questions about whether a particular pair of boots is waterproof. The boots aren’t waterproof, and you don’t want customers purchasing them with the expectation that they are. Because if they do, they’ll probably end up returning the product. This is an opportunity to add text to the product page, specifically calling out that the product isn’t waterproof. You might even suggest other options for those looking for waterproof boots.
There are endless ways to leverage the data in your reviews and Q&A. In fact, we recently wrote an entire blog that explores some key ways brands are tapping into the insights from reviews and Q&A to drive great results.
Cut Your eCommerce Return Rates with Reviews and Q&A
Product returns are a thorn in the side of brands and retailers. Unfortunately, there’s no way to completely eliminate returns. But by collecting and displaying reviews and Q&A, you’re making it easier for shoppers to find the products that best fit their needs. And when your shoppers know what to expect from your products, they’ll be less likely to return the merchandise they buy.