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Why Mitigating Apparel Returns Starts at the Product Description

Returns have burned a massive hole in the pocket of many an apparel retailer that has invested in e-commerce to drive sales. Poor fit is far and away the top reason shoppers return products, with 66 percent citing it as a reason they’ve done so, according to a survey from e-commerce marketing platform Yotpo. But 39 percent of consumers say they returned an item that was not as described, while 36 percent said it looked different in person—meaning that there are still a good portion of returns that very well could be prevented.

On top of this, 79 percent of the 2,000 e-commerce shoppers surveyed cited detailed product descriptions as very important to making a purchase decision, ahead of a merchant’s return and refund policy (70 percent), and the availability of customer reviews (58 percent).

Keeping that in mind, apparel retailers are tasked with being as descriptive as possible across their e-commerce sites and social channels, but they have an abundance of opportunities to collect customer reviews and even user-generated content (UGC) that can help them achieve that goal.

For example, despite SMS message customer review requests seeing a 66 percent higher conversion rate compared to email review requests, SMS is still widely underused for this tactic. And at least half of shoppers agree—51 percent of consumers are interested in being able to text with their favorite brands, according to another recent Yotpo survey.

Citing the exceptionally high engagement rate of text messages—98 percent of text messages are opened and 90 percent are read within three minutes—Josh Enzer, vice president of product marketing at Yotpo, said that not incorporating SMS into a comprehensive marketing strategy is a major missed opportunity for immediate engagement.

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The study also recommends that retailers keep it simple by offering a Q&A section for all their products. These prompts could help bridge the gap between how a retailer’s product looks or is described online versus how it may actually appear once the shopper tries it on.

“What companies need to aim for are in-depth reviews that address the most relevant areas of uncertainty or concern for shoppers—like details about the on-trend style, the slim fit, or washable material. These kinds of reviews are much better at depicting the buying experience as accurately as possible for potential customers,” said Enzer. “In order to ensure that you’re collecting these types of highly effective reviews from customers, it’s important to prompt the reviewer as they’re writing the review, guiding them towards the type of topics and issues fellow customers find to be the most useful.”

On the UGC side, video remains an underused tactic. Video can provide a more detailed visual for apparel fit than photography would, and the more brands encourage shoppers to share videos on social media wearing their purchase, the easier it is for potential buyers to envision the products in a real life setting. The Yotpo survey said 44 percent of people are more likely to buy a product after watching a video about it.

Customer lifetime value can save returns

The survey highlights the importance of not just means to improve the content that leads into a purchase, but the relationship that could be built even if a shopper returns the product anyway. Extending customer lifetime value is crucial, especially since a percentage of returns is in many ways unavoidable. In fact, the study indicates that 46 percent of Gen Z shoppers and 43 percent of millennial shoppers already sometimes buy more apparel than they intend to keep since some returns processes are easy.

With this in mind, making the returns experience more difficult for shoppers isn’t going to build any goodwill in the future, and is more than likely going to damage real opportunities that can be had by increasing engagement.

“While a flexible returns policy is extremely important here, keeping the conversation with the customer going is the most important thing you can do to improve lifetime value post-return,” Enzer told Sourcing Journal. “The type of interaction a customer has with your business after a return is a huge factor in determining whether or not a returnee will want to buy from you again. A well-timed SMS or email apologizing for any inconvenience the return may have caused, asking why the return was made in the first place, and then offering a discount towards a future purchase is a great way to turn a dissatisfied returnee into long-term repeat customer.”

Draper James keeps shoppers engaged even after a return

The survey highlighted Reese Witherspoon’s contemporary American fashion brand Draper James as a primary example of a company employing strategies to boost lifetime value, noting that customers who make returns are actually more likely to engage with the brand over the long-term than one-and-done shoppers.

To help customers understand the size, fit and look of their products as effectively as possible pre-purchase, Draper James showcases robust, informational reviews next to a comprehensive fit guide, according to Enzer.

“When it comes to the actual process of returning an item, Draper James offers three different options for returning or directly exchanging purchases—in person through Happy Returns, by mail or in-store—greatly increasing the odds that a shopper will be able to find their preferred return method,” Enzer said. “By understanding that returns don’t have to be the kiss of death for their business, Draper James was able to shape an exceptional returns experience.”