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How PIM Can Reduce Returns in E-Commerce Fashion

Jun 27, 2022

If you’re in the e-commerce fashion business, then you know that returns are a problem. The fashion industry reports average return rates of 25-30% for people who buy online. Clothing was the highest rated category (26%) for returns of online purchases in a recent survey of US shoppers by Statista.

Last year, the average return rate for online purchases in the US was 20.8% according to a survey by the National Retail Federation and Appriss Retail. Apparel had a higher rate of return than most other product categories.

Every return comes at a cost to your business. In fact, returns are a major contributing factor in profit drops for online fashion retailers as reported by UK fast fashion brand Boohoo.

Reducing the number of returns isn’t just good for the bottom line of your fashion business. It also enhances the customer experience by helping them get the product they want.

So how do you solve the online returns problem?

The answer might just lie in your product information management (PIM) system.

Reducing the number of returns isn’t just good for the bottom line of your fashion business. It also enhances the customer experience by helping them get the product they want.

Why Are Returns So High in Fashion E-commerce?

One of the main reasons for e-commerce clothing returns is that the fashion industry doesn’t rely on data as much as it does the shape and feel of the garments. The material type is important. The color is important. The fit is important.

These are all things that a customer can quickly gauge when they see a product in a store. The challenge is translating that in a meaningful way for shoppers who are only viewing a garment online.

This ties in with a key e-commerce fashion shopping behavior – ordering multiple sizes and colors of products. It makes sense that customers shop in this way when they don’t feel confident about how something might fit or look.

In fact, the main reasons that clothes purchased online are returned are:

  • Size too small
  • Size too large
  • Style doesn’t suit
  • Fit not as expected
  • Not as described
  • Change of mind
  • Defective

You can’t solve all of these issues. Customers could still change their mind about a purchase, for example, no matter what you do. Whether something suits a person is often a matter of personal preference and taste.

However, the majority of these reasons for returns are literally customers telling you what you need to do to improve.

Not as described? This means your product descriptions are unclear or not detailed enough.

Size too small or big? You’re either not providing a size chart or the one you have is inaccurate.

Fit not as expected? Your product description and/or images don’t accurately communicate how the garment looks when on.

The good news is that if you can get your product information right, you have a real chance at reducing online returns.


How to Make Sure Your Fashion E-commerce Information Is up to Scratch

Your PIM solution holds a lot of the base data that makes it possible for an online shopper to buy.

This starts with attributes that customers can use to filter and search for products such as color, material and product type.

However, the information that is most valuable in helping them make the right choice – and therefore reducing the chance of returns – is typically ‘soft’ and therefore harder to add automatically.

Ideally, at a bare minimum, each product on your e-commerce fashion website should include the following in the description:

  • A size guide
  • What materials the garment is made of
  • Information about any models in product images and videos (such as their height and the size they are wearing)
  • Information on the fit type (oversized, true-to-size etc)

McKinsey and Rebound have found that 70% of fashion returns were down to fit or style. Therefore, the more information you can provide, the better.

For example, it can be difficult for customers to gauge how long a skirt will be on them with only an image to refer to. By providing the back length measurement, shoppers can tell exactly where the skirt will fall on them saving them from buying an item that doesn’t fit their needs.

Other valuable sources of information include:

  • Customer reviews
  • High quality images including contextual pictures where appropriate (such as demonstrating size)
  • Videos
  • Live chat capabilities for guidance in choosing the right size or product

It’s not enough just to provide these assets though. You need to consider what message they are communicating to customers and whether it is cohesive. For example, if your images are retouched or edited, or if the lighting is different, then the color of a garment may look different compared to the product video. This can leave consumers confused about which is correct.

Likewise, using a wide variety of different body types and skin tones in your model photography can help customers determine how a garment will look on them.

Getting all of this right in your PIM solution requires a lot of high quality assurance. You need to be able to provide information in a structured way to enrich items properly so you can drive sales and reduce returns. To do that, you need to look at your organization.


Why Your Internal Organization Is Key to Reducing Returns through Product Information

Few fashion businesses link their e-commerce return rates to their internal organization structure. But accurate product information – the kind that can reduce returns – starts with how your business fits together.

In fact, there are often multiple teams and departments that have hands-on involvement in product enrichment.

The first level of product information is base data such as the name of a garment, the price, the brand name, etc. This is usually owned in a different system to the PIM system, which means the information for each item of clothing needs to be properly collated, tagged and shared. This should be done by the team that purchases the garment.

Notably, this includes the sizing charts. Many websites use more than one sizing table for a product, such as XS-XXL and numbers (eg 6-34). This is usually because the procurement team hasn’t unified the information when purchasing garments. This can be confusing for the consumer who must try to understand the difference between an XS and a 6.

The next level of product information is add-on data. This includes the different filters you want customers to use in each category, Depending on your assortment, you may want to filter on attributes like bags or belts, as well as things like colors and materials.

The final level of product information comes from customer services. Are you analyzing the data for items that are returned and adjusting the product information based on that data? It’s only by sharing information on what items are being returned, how many of them, and for what reasons that you can use your product descriptions to stop a purchase becoming a return.

For example, if a certain item has a high percentage of returns because customers find the sizing to be small, you could add a note to the product information that the garment runs small and customers who are between sizes should pick the larger one.

If customers consistently report an item as being the wrong color, you can adjust the colors of images and videos to be clearer or even reshoot them. In some cases, simply by creating new product images and updating product information you can boost sales of an item without discounting it.

You can’t fix what you don’t know about though. Taking a collaborative approach to product information is the only way to ensure that the right information is presented to shoppers.


Provide the Right Information by Thinking like Your Customer

Best-in-class product information can help reduce returns in fashion e-commerce by giving customers the information they need to make the right buying choices.

The key is to always be thinking as your shopper.

  • What information would you expect if you came to your e-commerce website to buy an item of clothing?
  • What attributes would you want to search or filter by?
  • What information would help you in your buying decisions?
  • What is missing?
  • What about your product information is confusing?
  • What causes you to return products you purchase elsewhere and what can you add to your product descriptions to stop your customers doing the same?

By thinking one step ahead of your customer, you can anticipate the questions and concerns they may have about a product. This enables you to provide them with the information they need to not only be convinced to buy, but also to keep their purchase.