Consumer Returns - A Detailed Overview

June 2018


The issue of product and consumer returns is even more important for ecommerce and online retailers, as return rates online are around 20%, versus 9% for physical stores. There are various reasons for this, from consumers not being able to physically see or touch items as they order, to getting the wrong size or finding it easier to make returns than going into a store.

Having a good returns process in action and putting in place plans to minimise returns is a good start for any business. This can be done with a decent understanding of consumer reasons and preferences for returns as this article discusses.

Increasing Options for Making Returns

There are now a greater number of options for making returns than ever before. All online retailers and ecommerce firms should have a clear, customer-centric returns process anyway but there are still various opportunities for consumers:

  • Go to the Post Office to send back any returns
  • Arrange for a courier to pick up the parcel from home or work
  • Use a returns specialist company such as Doddle

Consumer Contracts Regulations cover the rights of a consumer to make a return if they change their mind within 14 days.  Some online retailers may offer extended or different terms.

Making returns easy for consumers is more likely to increase retention and brand loyalty. It offers a good opportunity to demonstrate your business’ excellent customer service, increasing the chances that the customer will make a repeat purchase with your business rather than a competitor. 

Popular Reasons for Returns

Many reasons exist for consumers making returns, some of which can be addressed to reduce them occurring in the future while others can’t be helped. The most popular reasons for returns include:

  • Wrong size or wrong product ordered
  • Product not meeting customer expectations or not matching the description
  • Damaged product received
  • Company shipping the wrong product or size
  • Bought as a gift and the receipt is returning
  • Wardrobing (usually clothing, bought for a one-time use and then returned)
  • The customer simply changed their mind

How to Limit Returns as a Business

When a consumer has changed their mind, ordered the wrong size/product themselves or is returning a gift, there is little that can be done to address this. However, if it’s claimed the item didn’t meet expectations then review the listing and improve the product description and any images to combat this. With your company sending the wrong product, it’s best to conduct an internal investigation to see why this happened and how it can be prevented in the future.

Addressing the above common reasons for returns is the place to start. Make the process of finding the right product as easy as possible to reduce consumer complaints about ordering or receiving an item that doesn’t meet their expectations. Putting plenty of images and product information online should help here, especially for clothing, along with customer reviews.

Regularly reviewing your supply chain, suppliers, delivery partners and distributers should help spot any potential problems early on. This can reduce the chances of products getting damaged in transit and arriving in poor condition.

The Importance of a Strong Returns Management Procedure

A good returns management procedure is required to reduce returns rates and increase brand loyalty. 67% of shoppers check the returns page before making a purchase according to one survey, with 79% expecting free return shipping or an easy to print label and 92% will buy again if the returns process is easy.

So ensure the process is as easy as possible for the customer, with a clear policy set out. Don’t require them to fill in a survey with 50 questions, as this can be unnecessary and off-putting for making future purchases. Offering a free returns label, showing where any drop-off points are for shipping the items, and providing effective communication will all help.  

Get started with Whistl as we can provide effective delivery management for mail and parcel delivery, whether sending out products in the first place in a reliable manner or dealing with returns.

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