The 12 Most Common Reasons for Returns
Table of Contents
- Why Do Customers Return Their Purchases?
- Returns and Chargebacks
- What Is a Double Refund Chargeback?
Most merchants would prefer if no customer ever asked to return a purchase, especially given recent trends toward more generous return policies. These days it's simply expected that the merchant will pay the costs for return shipping, making refunds even more costly. Nevertheless, returns do have one significant upside: they're not chargebacks. The costs and consequences of chargebacks are far greater than those of returns, and every refund is a potential chargeback avoided.
Like chargebacks, however, returns can be prevented by identifying and addressing the root causes that lead to them. In fact, the problems that cause returns are often some of the same ones that cause chargebacks, so improving your business practices to reduce one will often reduce the other as well. Let's take a look at the most common causes of returns and how merchants can use this knowledge to increase customer satisfaction.
It’s good to have a generous return and refund policy. When customers know they can come to you with their problems, return an unwanted purchase, and get their money back, they have little reason to dispute the transaction with their bank instead.
With a return and refund, you’re only out the cost of the transaction, and you may even be able to resell the returned product.
A chargeback, on the other hand, costs you the purchase price, the product, the costs of selling it, and the related fees. Returns and refunds also have the potential to make the customer feel positively inclined toward the merchant and more likely to shop with them again. Chargebacks, on the other hand, are likely to leave a customer with negative feelings about the merchant, and can lead to bad reviews and negative word of mouth in addition to the loss of a customer.
Why Do Customers Return Their Purchases?
It’s important to understand why customers make returns, because the same reasons often lead to far more damaging chargebacks. Friendly fraud chargebacks can sometimes be the result of a customer feeling dissatisfied with their purchase. Preventing that dissatisfaction prevents returns and chargebacks alike.
Analyzing the reasons your customers might be dissatisfied can shed light on any chargeback problems you might be having and show you where you need to improve your customer service and other business operations.
While it's impossible to get inside the mind of every customer, here are a few of the more common reasons why customers return purchases:
The customer ordered the wrong product or size
Customers often order the wrong thing—maybe it’s a peripheral that’s incompatible with their device, a replacement part for the wrong model, or clothes that don’t fit. In these cases, they might have benefited from considering their purchase more carefully, but it’s understandable that they wouldn’t want to be stuck with a product they can’t use.
To reduce the number of returns caused by this, make sure any items with compatibility concerns state that clearly in the product description, preferably at or near the top.
You should also have a complete list of compatible items that's easy for customers to find and search.
For products with different sizes, many e-commerce merchants have started asking customers about the item's size when they leave a review. A chart next to the available sizes then indicates the percentage of reviewers that said the item ran small, ran large, or was true to the listed size.
The merchant shipped the wrong product or size
On the other hand, sometimes the customer places their order correctly, but the merchant ships the wrong item. In these instances, the merchant has a clear obligation to accept the return and ship the correct item.
The product was damaged or defective
Items sometimes get damaged during shipping, or they leave the warehouse in damaged or defective condition. Once again, the merchant is obligated to issue a refund. The customer clearly has the right to receive an undamaged and functional product or get their money back. To avoid this, inspect items and pack them carefully before shipping.
Frequent reports of products being damaged during shipping may indicate that some items aren't being protected sufficiently. Packaging purchases—especially those with multiple items of irregular size or those containing fragile products—can be tricky business, so it's important to keep an eye out for signs of recurring issues.
In some cases, frequently damaged products may instead indicate that the shipping service the merchant has partnered with isn't doing a very good job and may need to be replaced.
The product arrived too late
Some purchases are time sensitive, and if the merchant takes too long to fulfill the order, or if delivery is delayed for some reason, the customer will no longer need it. While some delays are unavoidable, it’s always best to ship orders promptly and use fast, reliable carriers.
The customer no longer needed the product
Occasionally, even when the merchant does their best to fulfill an order immediately, the customer no longer needs it by the time it arrives. While this may not be the merchant’s fault, it should come as no surprise that the customer will look for a way to get their money back. Once again, making sure your shipping is fast and reliable is all you can do to cut down on these returns.
The customer experienced buyer’s remorse
Another frustrating situation is when a customer buys something impulsively and sends it back for no good reason. Tempting as it may be to protect your revenue by insisting on a justification for returns, such policies rarely serve merchants well. If a customer is unable to return an item, they may file a chargeback instead, even if they don't have a legitimate reason for doing so.
The product did not match the description
When there is a great chasm between the ways a product is depicted in the merchant’s website or catalog and the actual appearance or functionality of the product, customers often feel ripped off, and who can blame them? This is often judged to be a valid reason for a chargeback, which means merchants usually won't be able to fight such chargebacks and win.
Merchants can avoid this problem by providing honest and detailed product descriptions and photos in their marketing materials.
Merchants should also be wary of relying on product images provided by the manufacturer and should check that these match the actual item before using them.
The product did not meet the customer’s expectations
At times, the gulf between expectations and reality is not the merchant’s fault. Sometimes customers bring their own assumptions to the table and anticipate the product doing things that the merchant never promised. Fashion items are also frequently subject to these returns, since a product image can't tell a customer how the item will look on them. Offering a refund in these cases can avoid chargebacks and preserve customer loyalty.
The product was a gift
Buying gifts for others can be challenging, and gifts are often given with the disclaimer, “You can return it if you don’t like it!” In many cases, that's exactly what happens.
The customer found a better price somewhere else
There’s no better trigger for buyer’s remorse than to see the item you just purchased offered for sale at a much lower price elsewhere. One way to avoid losses from being undercut by your competitors is to offer price-matching guarantees.
The customer was wardrobing
“Wardrobing” is the practice of purchasing an item with the intention of returning it once it has been used for a specific purpose. It might be a specialty tool purchased for a single use, a fancy garment worn for a special event, or a huge TV bought for a Super Bowl party.
Customers who engage in wardrobing are clearly abusing merchants’ return policies, but refusing them may leave you stuck dealing with a friendly fraud chargeback, since a customer who's willing to purchase and return an item with ill intent is likely willing to lie about the reason for a chargeback as well.
The purchase was fraudulent
Returns may also be used to launder money from stolen credit cards. The fraudster pays for an item with a stolen card, then returns it for cash. One way to avoid this is to offer refunds only to the original card or in store credit for card purchases, but it’s even better to avoid it altogether by using anti-fraud tools that block stolen card transactions.
Returns and Chargebacks
Returns and chargebacks often happen for the same reasons. The only difference is the path the customer chose to take to get their money back.
When merchants are accessible, easy to deal with, and quick to offer refunds when a customer is unhappy, they have a better chance of preventing disputes and avoiding friendly fraud.
No merchant enjoys having to give up revenue, but refunds are always a better alternative to chargebacks. A return and refund policy that puts the customer first can be an important part of any chargeback prevention strategy.