Preventing returns through better product information management

Retailers are always looking for ways to improve the return and exchange process to not only serve customers more effectively, but also to reduce the costs of restocking. While there are numerous steps merchants can take in this regard, one of the best approaches to preventing returns is through better product information management. If retailers can assist customers in buying the right item with accurate and clear product data, there will be fewer reasons to exchange or bring back a purchase.

With the start of the 2015 holiday season just a few short months away, now is the time to begin looking at what retailers can do to minimize the number of returns they process. The holidays tend to see a lot of returns – the Wall Street Journal reported that more than 20 percent of annual returns happen in the days after Christmas. While approximately 70 percent of returned merchandise can be put back into circulation and resold to another customer, there is no denying this process takes numerous man hours and resources to do so. Avoiding returns altogether is the optimal way of approaching the situation.

Steps to preventing returns

While some returns are simply inevitable and unavoidable, there are still many returns and exchanges that are fueled by merchant-controlled factors. This is particularly the case in the omnichannel era, where many people do their research and buy online. Correct product information management can actually play a vital role in minimizing returns – if retailers can ensure data displayed across all channels is highly accurate and consistent, they can eliminate one of the leading causes for exchanges.

While being more proactive in maintaining product information sounds rather straight forward, in practice it is often something that winds up being easier said than done. Today’s merchants are using a huge variety of retail channels to serve their customers, ranging from their own online stores to third-party marketplaces. Additionally, they are teaming up with supplier partners such as drop shippers to increase the number of items they can offer to customers. While this is an excellent strategy for reaching more customers with more items, it can create inconsistency with product information.

For example, merchants may offer the same item as a drop-shipping partner, but the product description they have written on their site may be different from that of their supplier. When retailers are using multiple sales avenues to sell products, it also opens up opportunities for some channels to become neglected or outdated – if retailers only sell a couple of items through a niche marketplace, that product description may not be updated with new releases of items.

These product information and specification mismatches become troublesome for a number of reasons. First, they make retailers look disorganized and disjointed. But even more concerning, incorrect product descriptions, misleading product images, and few product specifications result in customers buying items they do not actually want. If the product says a piece of clothing fits one way when it does not, if the specification says it comes with a feature that is absent in the latest model, or if the picture on the product page does not go with the description, shoppers are going to want to return the product for a refund or exchange it with an item that meets their needs.

Better product information management will help retailers not only improve the accuracy of their item data, but also help promote consistency across multiple channels.

Eliminating product information mismatches now

The deployment of new technologies, such as PIM systems, can be a time-consuming process. If retailers have an eye toward reducing the number of returns throughout the holidays, now is the time to begin implementing the tools required to improve product information management. PIM systems directly integrated with the channels a retailer sells on can speed up product updates and data revisions shown across channels so the customer is always in the know.