Online Retailers Tackle High Rate of Customer Returns

PHOTO: 1/3 of online shopping transactions returned.

About a third of all Internet transactions are returned by shoppers, according to the Wall Street Journal, so retailers are pushing clever tactics to help shoppers make choices that they will keep.

Thayer Meicler, co-founder of the free location-based app SaleSorter, says shopper behavior differs in an actual store compared with online. The National Retail Federation estimates that online sales will increase 13 to 15 percent this year.

"I would imagine the rate of in-store returns is much smaller than online because consumers know exactly what they are buying when they pick something out in stores so there are far fewer surprises," Meicler said.

The National Retail Federation said $58 billion in goods are expected to be returned this holiday season but it does not have data that shows the rate or dollar amount specifically of online shopping returns.

Meicler points to quarterly data from the Commerce Department that reported about 94 percent of retail sales occur offline, which she said may be driven by the desire to try on items, see and understand the quality and materials of items, to compare potential purchases and more.

"Given this, it is not surprising that online returns are rising, as consumers don't always have clarity as to what they are buying and expectations of what the item is may be made of," she said.

Fashion retail site Rue La La is trying to tackle the high rate of returns with a test program that allows customers to see their order history with sizing information, to help make sure they want to make a purchase.

Through Rue La La's service, a customer who has repeatedly bought the same brand of dress shirts in both a small and a medium could see a notice asking, "Are you sure you want to order the small? The last five times you ordered both sizes, you only kept the medium," Chief Executive Steve Davis told the Wall Street Journal.

The website, which also offers a mobile shopping app, has tried to make shipping and returns easier, by charging a flat $9.95 for a customer's first purchase, which then provides free standard shipping for every order you place for 30 days.

If you return an item for merchandise credit, you get free return shipping. But if you want a traditional refund you have to pay the return shipping costs.

Though shoppers are in the last day of Christmas gift shopping, it may be worthwhile to delay shopping for yourself until after the holidays, says Meicler. She said she expects to see discounts in stores to continue after Christmas, which consumers can track with SaleSorter.

"Consumers should shop early in the day to get the best sale items before they are picked over and to take advantage of door buster offers at many big-box retailers," Meicler said.

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