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What Online Retailers Can Do To Minimise Product Returns

The eCommerce revolution has arguably been most kind to fashion retailers. The creativity associated with apparel means that brands in the industry can open up their offering online, showing unique style through the blank slate of the internet and giving customers a taste of the kind of products they have without those customers having to travel to the shop, try everything on, and make decisions on the spot. Now, customers can leisurely browse through potential purchases on their mobile, and immediately research items of interest that have been sparked by what they’ve seen on TV, read in the newspaper, or come across online.

However, retailers’ move to eCommerce has not been without its share of problems, the most significant being the number of product returns they have to deal with. As eCommerce removes the option for the customer to try the piece of clothing they’re buying on, it means they can’t be absolutely sure they’re happy with their purchase. The garment may not fit, may be uncomfortable, or simply may not look as good on them as they thought it would when they saw it on the website.There are many, many reasons for product returns, and they all add up to one significant problem for retailers.

At the end of 2015, it was estimated that 30% of clothing and footwear bought online during November and December would be returned in early 2016, while further research in May 2016 revealed that almost two thirds of shoppers who have bought women’s clothing online in the last six months have sent at least one item back. Lee Bloor of online retailer Lavish Alice told the BBC that customers have found a new way to shop in the absence of changing rooms. “These days we are noticing a trend of consumers buying multiple sizes of the same product so they use their bedrooms as their changing rooms.”

So what can online retailers do to reduce return rates? In this article, mporium looks at some of the best tips…

Embrace Augmented Reality

If one of the biggest problems is customers being unable to try their purchases on physically, then retailers need to look at how they can do that virtually. Augmented reality gives brands the opportunity to place the power in customers’ hands. By using their phone or tablet, shoppers can get an understanding of how the item of clothing will look on them without actually putting it on. It doesn’t resolve all the problems around the size of a garment, and doesn’t give customers a sense of how an item will feel, but it saves them having to imagine how it will look.

Retailers have already attempted this, with some degree of success. Footwear brand Converse developed a mobile app called The Sampler, which allows customers to use their mobile or tablet to place an image of the shoe they’re interested in over their foot. The image can also be saved and shared, so not only is the customer able to judge whether it suits them, their friends are too. Beyond fashion, IKEA has developed a similar app, which gives customers the chance to scan the catalogue and picture the item they want in their living room, bedroom, or wherever else they want it to go.

In both cases, customers are given the power to understand if the item they want will suit them, therefore making the purchase of the right item (not just the item that seems right) more likely, and the return of it less likely.

Compare and Contrast

The outstanding problem that augmented reality can’t solve is fit. It’s the most significant issue, and the one that’s most difficult to solve. After all, how can you help a customer understand if something will fit them if they don’t have the item to hand to try on? This problem is exacerbated by the fact that different brands and retailers size things in different ways: an XL at one shop may be the equivalent of a Large or even an XXL at another. There’s no way to be absolutely sure without trying the item on.

The best way to approach this issue is through reference: allowing customers to understand how the clothes you’re offering fit by comparing them with items they already have. It’s a part of the market that’s been cornered by Virtusize, an eCommerce plugin that allows customers to build up banks of clothing options through the cloud and compare and contrast them to the item they’re looking to buy. So if you’ve got a pair of jeans that fit perfectly, upload the details and compare that new pair you’re interested in to see how they shape up.

This is still not a guaranteed way to avoid ill-fitting garments or returns, but it’s as close to a virtual changing room as is currently available, and does what all solutions to this problem must: puts the power in the hands of the customer.

Personalise The Customer’s Journey

Also at the heart of Virtusize’s success is an understanding of the importance of personalisation to the customer. By allowing customers to upload details of their preferred sizes and fits, Virtusize is effectively personalising their offering, making it easier for customers to feel like they are owning the purchasing process. But personalisation doesn’t end there. In fact, there’s much more that fashion retailers can do to personalise their offering for their customers.

A retailer’s eCommerce site should always aim to cater for the individual person’s needs, offering for example, recommendations based upon their previous purchases. But what if you can be more granular than that? What if those recommendations could be based on size, colour, and style? Bought a green tank top in size medium? Well, here are more medium tank tops and here are more medium green clothes. Not only does the revenue stand a great chance of going up, but the chances of product returns go down.

Even content and user journeys can be personalised to minimise the chance of items being returned. By evaluating user data and understanding not just the kind of items they’re buying, but also the kind of content they’re consuming, eCommerce sites can understand with greater clarity the journey they need to go on and the content they need to see. This will ultimately lead customers to buy the kind of products they really want and that they won’t need to return.


The threat of returned products is the biggest risk for fashion retailers looking to increase revenue through their eCommerce platforms. It’s a difficult problem to solve, and not one that will ever be eradicated entirely. However, through innovative use of emerging technology and doing what they can to understand and adapt to the customer, retailers can find a lot of joy, not just in averting returns, but even selling more.

Is your business affected by product returns? Let us know what you’re doing to combat the problem in the comments section. And don’t forget to subscribe to our blog.

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