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Liz Kasian

9 Proven Ways to Minimize Returns Rate in E-commerce

in this article

The state of the e-commerce 2019

Small and medium e-commerce businesses face multiple challenges, created by their bigger brothers like Amazon. An online shopper is getting spoilt by fierce competition amongst online suppliers, who aim to win customers by free shipping, free return policy, bottomless discounts – just to start with.

On the forefront of those expensive client-winning practices is the new norm of providing free returns to online shoppers.

Steve Denis, Forbes contributor, who writes on “reinvention of retail in the age of digital disruption” calls E-commerce returns “The ticking Time Bomb”. He argues that the industry “has created a monster” in the fight for higher conversions. Led by the giants with stiff contracts with national post services or with sophisticated in-house delivery services, bigger players have set a high standard for the industry at large – and the smaller retailers are struggling to live up to those high customer expectations.

Free return policy – the painful must-have of online stores

Free return policy has become as widespread as reaching almost half of the surveyed by the year 2018 with 49% of the retailers offering free return shipping. The shoppers meanwhile confirm the importance of such a practice with 2/3rds of the surveyed (67%) checking the return page before proceeding to purchase.

While the industry is trying to come to grips with this progressing challenge, savvy DNVB marketers find ways to fight high return rates via enhancing the user experience. According to the poll by Voxware out of 500 respondents, asked why they returned an item, 54% of respondents stated that the item received is the correct item, but it is the incorrect size or color.

Reducing your return rates via better product photos

Having gathered a substantial market knowledge in the field of product photography, we have crystallized 9 simple ways to elevate the level of imagery to an extent, that a client ends up with in-depth rounded knowledge about the product and its particulars, leaving little space for return reason.

The below 6-minute read will provide you with a detailed understanding of what is the expectation of a demanding customer from product images, that leave no questions unanswered. We have learned to foresee the potential pitfalls to address any concerns regarding the product even before a potential buyer has them popping in their mind. We also use product photography as a filter, that is engineered to attract the right customer but filter away the client outside the target audience with a high probability of return.

Product imagery is a highly powerful tool for an online store. You create your products for some specific audience, right? For those people, who share your values and can appreciate your product just as you do. Your photos should be a smart tool to attract and inform that people, to show them what you care about, and to tell them your truth. So you better keep that tool sharp!

Creating the right visual representation of a brand and product is an overarching mission of the e-commerce marketers worldwide – and it is proven to reduce product return rates in e-commerce multifold. However prosaic these pro tips may seem, when adhered to, they have proven an ability to both: increase CTR, boost engagement and decrease return rates for e-commerce businesses.

1. No-go: over-retouching your product images.

Some retouching is a basic necessity for any type of images, product photography is no exception. You do need to adjust some aspects of the product images. But over-editing them will result in an unnatural feel and look of the picture itself. On top of that, over-edited pics are the major reason why online shoppers don’t recognize the item when it is delivered to their threshold. The main mission of pro product photographs should be to show the product as true-to-life as possible. When retouched excessively, they are literally making the photo looking not like the item. Therefore, the high return rate.

There are some technical aspects you may wish to address in order to minimize the need to use retouching, like using white balancing accessories akin to ExpoDisc and X-Rite ColorChecker Passport Photo. With such gadgets, you can cool or warm in one click and even achieve an easy evaluation of shadows details.

So making sure the images are photographed in a professional setting will eliminate the need for excessive retouching and make the product pictures more realistic – consequently making your return rates both calm down and come down.

2. Choose the right angle and perspective.

While working on product photography for your e-commerce store it is paramount to make sure the photographs capture the right angle from the right distance. The choice of lens is also vital for the successful true-to-life rendering of the object in a digital image. The ideal focal length for the lens used in product photoshoot is between 50 to 150 mm.

If a photographer shoots from a close distance – the object may appear foreshortened. In the case of opting for a wide angle, the product may be visually distorted on a picture. Either way – the truthfulness of the proportions and lines blur away in both cases and should be avoided.

In case there is no possibility to shift the lens or tilt it to adjust the distance and angle – a transform tool can be used to rectify perspective.

When product pictures are out of focus or taken at funny angles – it is not only the return rate that suffers – it is your sales that are in danger here. Most of the shoppers like clean professional digital environments while chaos and distorted images make them wander off to better organized digital universes.

3. Convey the story about features of the item in focus.

Showcasing the features of the product is vital. It is not all about the front and side takes. If your product imagery provides info on nuance and detail, the customer receives the information, that molds his or her expectations to the final detail. In this case, you leave no room for imagination. The more details and nuance is reflected in images, the more functions of the item the photograph exposes – the more realistic a picture a customer gets about the product – without much space for surprises.

Today shoppers expect a number of images of the same product at different angles and they do expect full visual disclosure in those product images. Make sure it is obvious from the picture:

– what is the product about?
– how do you use it?
– what functions does it have inherent in its design?
– what are the best unique features of the product?

Be ready to tell a story of your product via photography – so your customer knows the product and its functions inside out by the time all the images have been scanned through. This is how online store owners can provide maximum information for potential buyers: increasing the user experience arming them with necessary information.

4. Make the best out of your close up images.

Disclaimer: do it if your product is a high-quality one. Consider doing it if your product is mass-market – but then you may expect not only lower return rates but lower sales as well – filtering out initially those highly likely to return the purchase. Still, this is also working as a product return prevention.

For example: imagine that the seams on your $20 garment are not perfect. But it is boho style and those slightly uneven seams go fine with the texture of the fabric and the relaxed design. Moreover, in the $20 price range with free delivery not many clients will be expecting a mathematically straight line of a seam. So if you do that close-up – you will warn your potential buyers about the sub-premium quality. But on the other hand, you are creating true-to-reality expectations of the garment quality, that go hand-in-hand with a sub-premium price range. So even if you may have decreased some sales with showcasing uneven seam, you have certainly minimized the number of product returns significantly providing a true image of the product’s imperfections.

In the premium segment, close-ups are a common expectation. By focusing on fine details, the photographer can highlight the fine weave of the deluxe quality fabric. Close-up images are perfect for tuning in on fine décor details on accessories and clothing pieces. The inner side of the product is best shown via a close-up image too – when the “ugly” side of the fashion item is even prettier than the nice one.

The close-up pictures vary from loose close-up to extreme close-up and are a simple way to allow a shopper almost touch the product. If your customer can get the right expectations before purchase, this is proven to reduce returns in ecommerce.

5. Provide context to a product: in-context product imagery.

The missions of this product photography hack are multiple:

– to inform about the size & dimensions of an item on a photo
– to insert an object in the habitat befitting to it and complementing it
– to provide visual context relative to the target audience

Doing a series of real-life photos of an object – with a model or just against the out-of-studio background is great for your social media activities of course. Quite frequently brands create fundamental rapport with their target audience via engaging in a specific context or real life scenario.

When it comes to the mission to decrease return rates for your e-commerce platform – using different props & models will definitely give the item a reference point as to the size and dimensions of the piece on a photo. This is why we often see bag images taken on a model – so shoppers can appreciate the size relative to the model’s body or hand.

Real life scenery & backgrounds will also help your brand to pinpoint the lifestyle the item was designed for – beach, disco, urban, steampunk and what not. This is the chance to employ one of the most powerful marketing techniques – storytelling – albeit in a visual dimension.

Making your product relatable is easier in context – the more connected buyer feels to the product at the time of purchase – the less likely the return of the item is after delivery. In terms of product photography pricing, lifestyle and in-context imagery may be more expensive, so you should be prepared to pay an extra for images of this type.

6. To use a model or not to use a model?

For product photography studio involving models indeed come twice as expensive as that without. But models will help your customers to discover your product in a totally new dimension. This is about helping your client to visualize the product in their life, the chance to relate to the product and to appreciate its physical dimensions.

Sure, that option is pretty pricey so think twice before adopting models photos for your standard product photos set. Until some point, that may be much better for your brand to use clean and professional product photos against the background, than blurry model shots.

On top of the above-stated purposes, that can be achieved by using models in your product imagery shoot – this is a chance to upsell extra items from your collection. Many collections are designed to be combined in one ensemble – so putting pieces together on a model may increase your sales too.

Choosing the right model also helps relate to your target audience and build a stronger rapport, that leads to higher social media engagement and better brand awareness. Remember, diversity, body positivity and inclusivity mean much more to customers than clean images of classic models – those are not relatable anymore.

While using models in your shoot, do include size and measurements of a model in image description for best user experience. Once the customer understands the parameters of a model, they can approximate how much taller / shorter / bigger / smaller the garment needs to be to fit them. This is exactly how an e-store owner provides exhaustive info that eliminates any concerns and answers all the questions about the product.

7. Notch up the game with 360-degree images.

Video content is reported to be taking up over 80% of all internet traffic by the year 2020. Currently, it reached over 70%. Users get used to getting loads of information by the second and video is the fastest, easiest way to get it.

360-degree product photography maybe not a video as such with a dynamic plot and all – but it is de facto a video – or a gif. And customers are in love with the kinetics of video. Inserting 360-degree spin photography will increase your time-on-page and engagements on the website. Your customer has a chance to learn the product from every angle – that will build up the expectations as close to reality as physically possible.

There are a few ways how to create 360-degree product images:

– making a series of shots of a product at different angles and using a code to rotate those images on a website
– to create a GIF
– to make a video of a product on a rotating table
– to make a series of shots of a product /72 for best results/ and use software to combine them in a seamless 360-degree spin video:


Once you arm your online store visitor with all the visuals and even a 360-degree spin image – the customer has all the tools for the informed decision-making process. If armed with all that information the client prefers to leave the cart empty – the business knows every strategy has been employed and accepts the decision of the client. From our experience, the imagery will often serve as a filter too – it is at this stage, that many of the potential returns are cut out. That’s e-commerce returns management, done smartly.

8. Utilize infographics for hero shots & to communicate technicalities.

Images and video alike are a powerful tool when it comes to informing your potential client about your product. But words are still indispensable. Combining words and imagery will only amplify the visual messaging conveyed by the picture. Using infographics is a great way to capture the attention of a user by the picture and add value with the help of written messages.

Infographic is a great tool to deep-dive into particulars and nuances or to send one loud message. It is important to understand which part of the funnel the infographics is used for. If it is a hero image in your online store of sports inventory – then only a bold CTA and a product name are appropriate. If this is to be found later in the folio of product pics – more detailed information with technical nuances is not only appropriate but is expected too /you may mention all the technicalities you need and highlight how your shoes are different and better from the rest of sneakers and keds/. Infographics help literally highlight any information about your product to best inform your potential client and show the item’s real value.

9. Use product photography to attract – but also use it to inform and to filter.

While the product is the center of e-commerce universe, some factors along the marketing funnel have become so important in terms of their effect on a bottom line, that even the best products have a hard time surviving. Decreasing the return rate (a.k.a. e-commerce return rate optimization) is the burning question for many small and big online retailers – for DNVBs and those who came from offline to online. Relevant professional product photography is the way to elevate user experience, inform your users about the great sides of your product and hint on some imperfections, it is a method to be truthful about your product.

Indeed, it is not impossible, that true-to-life photography may filter out some of your customers by showcasing the product as is. But as experience proves, the return rates then go down drastically, as due to detailed hand-selected imagery the clients end up getting exactly what they ordered. So even though your sales may slightly fall – your return rates will almost disappear then, bringing all that cash flow back into your bottom line. And that's what we all want from ecommerce returns management.

E-commerce is evolving by the minute and those who manage to stay on top of those changes win this never-ending race. There is no magic button though, which will turn things from good to great in a click. Hard work, experience and attention to detail, focus on client needs combined together will sure help to stay afloat and follow the trend as closely as possible.

User experience is vital when it comes to product photography and those few tips are based on empirical knowledge and have a proven record of helping to bring down those increasing return rates – ultimately helping businesses to positively impact their bottom line.

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