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False expectations create disappointed realities.

Picture this: you wait a week for this shirt you’ve just been dying to wear... It’s in salmon, your favorite color. You hear a knock at the door and the sound of a distant car engine – you think to yourself, "Yes! It’s finally here!" So you open the door, retrieve the box, and tear open the packaging to find the shirt you’ve been waiting for, except... it’s in hot pink.

Time to return it.

There’s a problem plaguing the world of ecommerce, and it seems to be growing with each passing year: product returns. A study by Statista estimates that the cost of these return deliveries will climb to a towering $550 billion by 2020. 

The reason for this is that consumers don’t get to physically see, touch, and experience a product if bought online. This then breeds inaccurate expectations when the buyer tears open the packaging to their long-awaited shirt to find that it looks totally different from the product images. The solution? Return it. We’ve all been there.

There are many ways to reduce ecommerce returns and avoid the hassle that comes with them, but one solution is nearly foolproof: fully optimized product data. The best thing you could to do prevent returns is to give consumers a clean, honest, and accurate depiction of your products. They need to know exactly what they're buying when they complete their purchase.

Optimized product data creates a more valuable product listing, essentially allowing your customers to experience a virtual showroom for the item. In other words, by providing a complete picture of your product through its data, your customers will feel like they understand what they're buying – thus developing more realistic expectations for the item they’ll receive at their doorstep later.

The Hassle of Ecommerce Returns

It goes without saying – ecommerce returns are extremely inconvenient... on both ends.

Just think of all the time, money, and energy you expend for a single product return. And on top of that, there’s literally no payoff for the trouble you go through. A few of these inconveniences include the cost of the refund, a lost sale, shipping costs, and most regrettably, a disappointed customer. According to Narvar, 89% of customers have returned an online purchase in the last three years. Chances are, your ecommerce business has had to complete many returns in the past, too.

Don’t be discouraged, though. Ecommerce returns are preventable, no matter how widespread they seem to be.

Minor Solutions

There are a number of minor solutions that may prevent ecommerce returns. While these may only help a minimal amount, it still helps to be aware of them.

Among these solutions is to enable an open, easy returns policy. Customers will be more apt to buy your product with the knowledge that they can readily return the product should they be dissatisfied with it. By extending the length of time in which a customer can complete a return, you decrease the odds that they’ll actually follow-through with it. 

Another tip to reduce ecommerce returns (especially with apparel) is to implement accurate sizing guides and fitting tools. Many returns are the result of inaccurate sizing information. A customer purchases a pair of pants online to find out upon delivery that they don’t fit right. Your should even consider adding in features that detail whether the product runs smaller, larger, longer, shorter, etc.

With this in mind, customer feedback is a wellspring of helpful information to reduce product returns. Request feedback at the time of a return and scour the pages of product reviews. You’ll be sure to discover the source of your return problems and be able to enact changes to prevent any further ones in the future.

The Best Solution

These solutions are pretty good, but you may as well get to the bottom of your product returns: unoptimized product data.

By optimizing your product data, your ecommerce business will get to the root of your ecommerce returns and weed out the issues. Optimizing your product data enables you to better implement those minor solutions by focusing on the major one.

Of the various ways you can optimize your data, three stand above the rest when it comes to preventing ecommerce returns: titles, descriptions, and images.

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of each of these product fields, ensure that you do one key thing first: fill in every single data field possible, even those optional ones.

Data feeds with fields that aren’t fully populated simply won’t perform as well as those with fully populated fields.

Product Titles

Product titles are essential to providing your customers with accurate summations of what your items are.

Most likely, a product's title is the first thing potential buyers will see (besides the product image) when introduced to your product. First impressions are crucial, especially when looking to reduce ecommerce returns.

A study by Crealytics noted an 18% increase in Click-Through-Rate for products with optimized product titles. Imagine all the returns you’ll prevent and the sales you’ll create with perfectly structured product titles.

You can begin optimizing your product titles by arranging appropriate structures for all your different product types. For instance, depending upon your product type, consider this structure for your product: brand, gender, product type, color, size, material. Remember to keep this all under 55 characters, too, as shorter titles get more clicks.

The key here is to be as specific as possible to provide potential buyers with the most accurate portrayal of your product. Avoid promotional text and keyword stuffing as these will only lead to more returns. 

Check out this example from The North Face’s website.

optimizing product titles to reduce ecommerce returns


Product Title on Site: Women’s Short-Sleeve Recycled Materials Graphic Tee

Product Title in Google Search: The North Face Women’s Short-Sleeve Recycled Materials Graphic T-Shirt: New Taupe Green

This optimized product title encapsulates everything that the product is. Instead of calling it merely ‘green shirt’ or ‘women’s blouse,’ The North Face optimizes the title to allow for the most user-friendly understanding of what the item is.

With the precision and clarity that accompanies an optimized product title, your customer will know exactly what the product is, therefore decreasing any possible chances for returns.

Product Descriptions

So you’ve got killer product titles? Now it’s time to optimize your product descriptions.

To optimize a product description, consider including: technical specifications, intended age range, size, shape, pattern, design, and any other features you think are central to the product you’re selling. Additionally, be sure to use high-relevance keywords. This way, even if you don’t want a bunch of textual information crowding your site, you’ll still have a better opportunity to rank in paid search.

If your product descriptions are consistent with what potential buyers might be searching for, then your products should show up in paid search and should garner sales that are less likely to be returned.

Again, avoid any promotional text or additional sales information that may come off as inauthentic or spammy.

Focus primarily on how your product will benefit your customer, but be honest about it and avoid hyperbolic descriptions. Additionally, consider breaking up your description into more easily-read bits with features like bullet points.

Consider this product description example from Adidas' website:

optimizing product descriptions to reduce ecommerce returns


Description optimization allows for a detailed and accurate rendering of your product, further decreasing the odds that a customer will return the product.

Product Images

Poor visuals are responsible for 30% of all online product returns, according to research from Shorr.

Solid product imagery might be the easiest way to make your ecommerce business shine, yet poor product image practices continue to trip-up so many companies each year.

First, you must make sure that your image is in an accepted format, such as a JPEG (.jpg/.jpeg) or a PNG (.png) and follows exact specifications. Non-apparel items usually require images of at least 100 x 100 pixels, while apparel products need images of at least 250 x 250 pixels... but you should be using high-quality imagery (more on that below).

Additionally, your image URL should link to your product page, begin with "http" or "https," and be able to be crawled by Google.

Now onto the fun part.

Product images should be of the highest quality and should show the product from every angle. Avoid generic photos, and stick to real shots of your products instead – both basic and in-use shots. High-quality images lend themselves to zoom functionality, which you want to enable whenever possible.

The next best thing you should also consider is 360 product imagery. You may even want to include product videos for that extra touch, too.

Get creative with your product images; your customers will appreciate it.

Take a look at Bellroy’s product images for their extra slim wallets.

optimizing product images to reduce ecommerce returns

Not only does Bellroy provide accurate and up-close shots of their wallets, but they include a video of the product in action, too. The images reflect the product in real life, while also exuding a sleek and professional feel. Good product images sell both your products and your brand.

Take advantage of the advertising opportunities that come along with optimizing your product images – in the meantime, you’ll cut down on returns, too.

A Complete Product Profile

Now that you've polished your product titles, descriptions, and photos, it's time to make sure that the rest of your product data is as complete as possible.

The product information you include is used by Google as the basis for your ads. Google’s list of Shopping Feed Specs outlines all of the possible attributes you could fill in. Many of these are required, but there are also a few optional ones, too. You might be tempted to scroll right past these, but don’t; the more product data you provide in your feed, the more information your shoppers have, the less likely they are to initiate a return.

Ensuring that all possible fields are filled will boost your ad’s performance in relevant searches and further decrease the possibility of ecommerce returns. Customers will see products they actually want to buy.

In Conclusion

It’s no secret now – an optimized data feed gives potential customers the best chance to know and understand the product they’re buying in order to prevent future returns. Optimizing your product titles, descriptions, and images will give your business the best opportunity to avoid inconvenient returns.

An optimized title introduces your customers to your product, while an optimized description allows them to decide if they really would be interested in purchasing. Optimized images also play a key role in rendering an authentic portrayal of your product to your customer and hold huge power in turning browsers into buyers. 

Finally, providing your shoppers with a complete product profile using all the available data fields for your product will set expectations and reduce the likelihood of a purchase being made under incorrect assumptions.

Say goodbye to those product return blues.

An optimized data feed is key to cutting down on frustrating ecommerce returns. Optimized products create satisfaction, for you and for your customer.