How to reduce return rates on e-commerce websites

Jun 10, 2019 by Thomas White
12 MIN

Currently, e-commerce websites have a return rate of around 33%. A full third of all the products bought online end up being sent back to the producers or distributors they were bought from. That’s a huge amount of business that eventually has to be refunded, repackaged, and restocked, wasting time and money.

There are many different ways to reduce your returns rates—some quite obvious, and some more subtle—but overall, the major key to reducing returns that you should be thinking about is high-quality product photography. Let’s have a look at how this all works.

The problem with returns

Return deliveries will cost $550 billion across the US by 2020

Of course, returns mean returning revenue back to a customer, but considering you have to pay for a delivery, you actually lose a lot more. Statistica has found that these deliveries from the buyer back to the seller in just one year’s time amount to $550 billion a year in just the US alone, and those statistics don’t even include loss of inventory or the cost of replacing products if they’re no longer usable. That means billions and billions of dollars are being lost by small online businesses by this new phenomenon of e-commerce returns.

© Shopify

With the new digital age of shopping, people just have different habits. Statistics from Shopify—a major website platform that focuses on e-commerce—show that 41% of consumers now buy with the intention of later returning. They spend money to try different variations of a product they see online because they can’t try it out in real life as easily. This may seem like a huge waste, but given how easy it is to organize returns and delivery, to most shoppers online this seems fairly efficient.

The reason behind these returns is also fairly simple: either the product doesn’t fit, the customer has changed their mind or, importantly, it doesn’t look how it did online. 22% of all returns are just because a product’s photos didn’t match the actual texture and experience of the product in real life.

How to reduce returns and make e-commerce work

A generous return policy

This first solution seems a bit counter-intuitive. You’re going to reduce the amount of returned products you get by making it easier to return them? But it turns out it actually does work: when you have longer periods of time available for returns, people are less pressured into making a decision as to whether they want to keep the product or not. We know from surveys of e-commerce that the majority of returns are done last minute, and if that last minute is a long time people sometimes forget about it. Eventually, they just give up and keep it.

shopify ecommerce returns

© Shopify

What’s more, 62% of customers “would buy again” from brands offering free delivery and returns. 90% of customers highly value a good return policy, meaning you have to consider forming one that suits your company and what you do. Even if you do end up getting products sent back, you still end up selling more.

Collect customer feedback

If you have a simple return process, customers won’t mind answering a few questions as to what went wrong. Filling out a simple survey of multiple-choice questions takes no time at all, and is a simple price to pay for free return delivery! Holding these kinds of surveys allow your company to gain important and powerful insights into how your returns policy best operates.

© Customer Sure

After all, 96% of shoppers would work with a company that had an “easy” or “very easy” returns policy, which you can truly optimize for user experience itself with surveys like this.   

These kinds of policies also allow you to segment your marketing to specific target audiences. Let’s consider for a moment how you do email marketing campaigns. If 20% of your customers have a high return rate, and of that 20% you know which groups of people specifically return the kinds of products you’re trying to promote, you can isolate them from your campaign and quit while you’re ahead. By reducing the number of returns you get during a sale or specific drive, you can easily reduce losses while continuing to increase e-commerce sales.

Personalize the customer experience with reviews and emails

Personalised email campaigns deliver 6x higher transaction rates

Once you’ve gathered data from segmenting your customer base like this, you can also send targeted emails of general marketing to persuade them to keep whatever product you’ve sold. Here’s an example: if they bought sneakers, send them an email with an article about how they’re in this year, or if it was a dress, send a follow-up on new looks for summer, etc.

It might sound strangely personal, but statistics show that personalized email campaigns deliver 6x higher transaction rates, and you literally tell your customers why they should keep the products that they bought. It doesn’t get more direct than that.

Incorporating customer reviews is also a big part of placing user experience at the heart of how your e-commerce works. 84% of people in the US rely on online customer reviews of products to make a purchase and trust the thoughts of other customers like them 12 times more than product reviews themselves.

Reviews make customers more likely to choose products that they won’t later regret by giving them a documented, existing customer experience. If the product has a certain texture or use, they can gain all this info from customer reviews, and a simple star rating also allows them to speed up their shopping online and buy products with the highest reputation - that is, those least likely to be returned. PETCO in the US has reported that products with customer reviews have a 20% lower return rate than products that don’t have them.

Professional product photography, the return rate killer

High definition images

22% of returns are because the product doesn’t look like the image online

Having professional product photos is an extremely simple way to ensure you don’t get high return rates. If customers know exactly what they’re going to get, they don’t need to mess around with buying a product to just test it out and returning it immediately, and they won’t have the same problems with coloring and size.

© Meero

The more detailed photography is, the more precise the photo and higher the quality, the more customers can get a sense of the texture, use actual physical qualities that they can only really get in-store. A lack of info leads to a poorly informed purchase decision and thus returns.




Product photography is invaluable to any e-commerce website, as findings from Etsy have shown. Originally a site for individual creatives to share handmade and vintage goods, Etsy is now a massive online marketplace of alternative clothing and accessories. Their studies on how customers interact with their website shows 90% of customers think that image quality is the most important factor in a sale.

etsy stats

© Etsy

And the pictures you provide not only help increase eCommerce conversion rates, but they also help you keep them as sales. Since 22% of returns are ultimately caused by photos that look unlike the product in real life, by making the images on the product page as realistic and professional as possible, you can totally erase this large margin of returns and cut down on losses.

© Meero

Meero’s own product photography solutions ensure all photographs are edited by AI-driven algorithms that process each pixel individually and guarantee a regular high quality in no time at all. Products are presented stylishly and, importantly, with as accurately as possible to how the product looks in real life.

360 product views

91% of customers want to be able to use 360 product views

This technique is particularly popular on bigger e-commerce sites like Amazon. By taking a detailed 360° panorama image of the product, the photographer can reproduce a 3D view of the item from any angle, which gives a particularly unique advantage to your product images. Any visitor to the website can get an impression of the product that is as close to physically holding it as possible from anywhere they want.

schuh adidas 360

© Schuh © Adidas Originals

Again, this is a technique with a very good impact on conversions: you can see an increase in the conversion rate of up to 30% just from including these 3D images of products on your site. Customers get a much closer feel of the physical dimensions of the item and a much more obvious idea of what to expect when they open the box. While photographs alone can give more detail to specific parts of the item, they don’t allow the viewer to look for themselves at specific angles and elements that might not be important to a marketer. That’s brands using them see a 24% reduction in call center calls from customers. They ultimately put a lot more power in the hands of the customers.

As with above, they increase image accuracy which reduces returns. Home Depot found when it used 360-degree product views that their image accuracy went from 55% to 99.1%, meaning customers had a clearer idea of what they were about to buy and were less likely to eventually return the product.

Meero also offers 360 product photography from highly trained professionals with all the necessary equipment. While these shoots can often be expensive given the extra equipment they require, we offer competitive rates with extremely quick editing processes that get all the content back to you within 24 hours.

Meero’s solutions can increase sales while reducing returns

Since we were founded in 2016, our startup has spread across over 100 countries around the world working for small businesses all the way up to major brands like JustEat, Expedia and Rive Gauche. We set businesses up with professionally trained and vetted photographers for competitive prices, edit all the visual content through a cutting-edge AI editing system and return it back to the client in less than 24 hours.

Our customers have seen their click-through rates doubled for online business, and our uniform, professional visuals guarantee accurate and stylish images for any type of product in e-commerce. Meero’s high-quality photo solutions are guaranteed to reduce returns through an improved product and brand image bringing your products to life on screen.

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