Reduce your eCommerce returns: surfing the Zara wave

The era of free eCommerce returns is getting to a turning point and it was about time! Putting in place strategies to prevent it is the best solution for both the consumer and the e-seller, but most of all for the environment.
ecommerce returns

ECommerce returns are part of the game and there is no way a seller can avoid them. There are niches where this happens with a much higher frequency (like apparel) even tough every e-seller has or is destined to eventually deal with it.

Even if it’s a consumer’s right to return an item, trying to reduce the volumes of reverse logistics is possible and must have the same priority of getting new sales

The fashion industry is the most impacted by the problem and is the place from where the first signals of change have emerged as companies are trying to contrast the matter by applying the strongest element of friction existent for such procedure: introducing a return fee.

Brands like Abercrombie & Fitch, Foot Locker, Boohoo, Asos and the latest Zara are just an example of how policies are being changed to clearly prevent an abuse of the free eCommerce returns option. In many cases (starting by Zara) returns are still free if the products are brought back to the store. However, in the case of eCommerce returns, the fee will be deducted directly from the refund. According to Forbes, many will follow Zara’s move and the procedure of charging for online returns might soon extend to other product verticals.

The costs of eCommerce returns

Is this manoeuvre to be considered drastic? Non at all in the opinion of these companies because reducing the rate of client returns became more important than preserving the brands perception to the online shoppers’ eyes. Also, these brands know that the customer expecting a free return is the same one with environmental concerns, therefore willing to better accept such changes. 

The environmental cost is indeed high, In a 2018 report from Optoro it was found that reverse logistics in the US creates more than 15 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually. The same amount emitted by 3 million cars. In 2020 the amount of CO2 grew all the way to 16 million metric tones. Along with the environmental cost there is the cost for retailers. The margins-killer side of the story which is indeed a sad story. It is estimated in fact that in the US alone, returns cost retailers 20.8% average of their order value resulting in a total of $218 billion in losses for the year 2021.

It goes without saying that this is a lose-lose-lose situation there the third part is represented by the cost for the consumer who will see at least part of those lost margins stuffed in the cost increment of their favorite products.  

The strategies to avoid online returns

Let’s start by considering that 70% of the reasons eCommerce returns can be controlled by the brand! It’s a matter of understanding the cause and taking action. If you think this sounds to simple to be true, continue reading. Here are some tips to prevent online returns:

  • Collect data: don’t just allow the product to return to the warehouse, get as many info as you can from the customer. Force them to be specific by avoiding survey options that can become quicker to select like “other”.
  • Create accurate visuals and product descriptions: we know well that the risk that coms with selling online is that chances are that reality won’t match expectations so do everything that’s in your power to prevent it by putting in extra effort in describing the product and in providing images of the item. Beyond focusing on its appearance, make sure to show it in use, this will make the difference for the viewer (and increase sales as well).
  • Use (real) reviews: a review can make a difference, non just in terms of sales. Ask you customers for valuable reviews that can help future customers to make a conscious purchase. 

Is the ban of free eCommerce returns inevitable?

Free postal returns might be a comfortable solution for a customer, but are certainly unrealistic in a world where almost everyone shops online like in 2022. In fact, as online shopping increases, online returns do too therefore cuddling customers by picking up at their doorstep the products that they don’t wish to own any longer for whatever reason, isn’t sustainable in terms of costs and for the environment. 

This doesn’t mean that a brand should suddenly start to operate in contrast with a pleasant customer experience and taking this benefit away, – lets not forget that these policies contributed to create the problem – but that they can start working on many fronts – from product description, to UGC content, to intensifying end customer’s involvement in post-purchase feedbacks – to reduce the number of postal returns.

And while this number can be dramatically reduced, let’s not forget that reverse logistics is by all means part of the order fulfillment process.

For this reason the creation of a more sustainable online return process calls for the support of a company that can provide an automated, efficient and easy to implement solution when that moment comes. 

Schedule your meeting with Borderl3ss today to learn more about our reverse logistics processes and how easy we can make your order fulfilment by integrating all your sales channels in one, complete yet user-friendly platform. 

Robin Calandri

Robin Calandri

DTC Fulfillment Blog

Find all the information you need to optimize your European fulfillment operations. 

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