6 Common Reasons for Retail Returns (And Why You Should Care)

We all know by now that returns are the new normal. But this begs the question—why are so many returns happening in the first place?

Since the dawn of modern retail, customers have returned products for a wide variety of reasons. But the inherent uncertainty that comes with online orders only maximizes the risk for retailers. Understanding why a product is being returned and addressing the problem before it’s shipped back can help you minimize the cost and hassle that come with blind returns.

Below, we highlight six common reasons for returns, why retailers should care about them, and how to get ahead of problems to mitigate the risk.

1 – It doesn’t fit.

Whether it’s t-shirts, bathing suits, or living room furniture, size definitely matters to your buyers. It’s important to give as much information on your product pages as possible so your customers feel confident about choosing the right fit.

Sizing inaccuracies are a pain for buyers—they have to fill out paperwork, locate a drop-off, and wait even longer to get their hands on the desired item. By making it easy to exchange online, or offering the option to bring unwanted items back to a physical store, you won’t lose out on the sale and can even gain opportunities to upsell.

Another way to ease the pain of wrong-size returns is to implement an online returns portal that requires customers to input reasons. This can help you identify discrepancies early, then quickly update product information to help prevent more returns down the line.

2 – It’s different than described.

Beyond size, there are a million and one ways that a product can end up different than expected. Color, pattern, material, scent, taste, durability—these are just a few examples of how a product might be off from a photo or online description.

Again, for retailers who want to inspire consumer loyalty, it’s important to nip any inaccuracies in the bud. The more misleading your product information, the less your customers will trust what you tell them. And that means they’ll be less likely to buy anything from your brand in the future. It’s important to collect return reasons from unsatisfied customers upfront so that you can recognize repeat complaints and update product descriptions as soon as possible.

3 – It’s damaged.

It’s a retailer’s worst nightmare—you attract a new buyer to your brand, get them excited about your merchandise, inspire them to make an online purchase…and then lose them as a potential lifelong customer because of damaged goods.

Damages are especially frustrating because they often happen while the package is on its way to the customer. It’s out of your control, and it can cost you exponentially once you account for the broken merchandise, the replacement merchandise, and any loyalty lost along the way.

As with most other issues, getting ahead of the problem can help you save the day. Customers love self-service platforms and transparent retailers—just look at Amazon. Give your buyers an easy way to report damages online instead of making them sit on hold with your customer care call center, and they’ll appreciate (and remember) the convenience. This also opens a door for you to acknowledge the mishap straight away, whether in the form of a simple “We’re so sorry!” email, a rushed replacement, or a coupon to use towards future purchases.

4 – It arrived late.

A big presentation. A first date. A tropical vacation. There are tons of reasons why a customer might need a delivery by a specific time, and it’s your responsibility as the retailer to do everything you can to get their goods to them on time. But, as we all know, sometimes it doesn’t quite work that way.

When an expected item doesn’t show up on time—and the customer needed it for a specific occasion or other timely reason—it doesn’t put you in the best light, especially if you don’t communicate with them ahead of time to let them know the order won’t arrive on time. The most important thing to do in this situation is be proactive: let your customers know when their orders are running behind schedule.

The second most important thing you can do is let your customer know that you’re sorry for the inconvenience caused by a late arrival, and make it easy for them to return the item or exchange it for something else.

5 – The wrong item was sent.

Listen—mix-ups happen. Sometimes, wires get crossed and the wrong thing ends up in the box. But it’s what you do after a mix-up to make things right for your customer that really counts.

How seamless is it for your customers to send the wrong items back? Do you make it easy for them to tell you about the mistake online, early and without hassle, so that you can get the correct order to them in a timely, efficient manner? By simplifying the returns and re-delivery experience for consumers frustrated by mishaps, you’ll win points in the long run by inspiring trust and repeat purchases.

6 – I just don’t like it.

Consumers can be fickle beasts. Your product page can be 100% accurate, you can do everything you can to ensure a positive experience, and the delivery can arrive as expected. But that doesn’t mean that some customers might not turn around at the end of the day and say, “Meh. Turns out this isn’t for me.”

You may not be able to prevent this from happening, but you can take steps to ensure it won’t cause much trouble for you or your customer. Implement an online returns initiation process to gather feedback about why a customer found a product undesirable. This also lets you identify pure-play returns of resaleable items before they’re sent back, and optimize their routes back to a fulfillment center. And more importantly, you’ll instill confidence in that customer to buy from you again in the future.


Returns are just a part and parcel of the world of ecommerce sales. But by safeguarding against the risks that go along with these six common return reasons, retailers can save on resources and inspire lifelong customer appreciation and loyalty.

To learn more about current return trends and evolving consumer behaviors, download our The Essential Guide to Retail Returns ebook.