BL&T No. 158: How to Reduce BFCM Returns


This post originally appeared in my newsletter, Borrowed, Learned, & Thought. BL&T is sent weekly on Mondays. In every edition, I share lessons learned in agency leadership, life, and e-commerce. This post does not include all the details shared in the newsletter sent via email. Subscribe here.


“What I want you to see is that having satisfied customers isn’t good enough anymore. You don’t own those customers. They’re just parked on your doorstep and will be glad to move along when they find something better.”

From "Raving Fans" by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles [Book]


Every time I slip my phone back into the pocket of my favorite jeans and feel it gradually inching down my leg, I remember how badly I need a new pair. They're holey. Sorry, dad jokes feel natural these days. Anyway...

I've been postponing the purchase of new jeans because I don't love the break-in period. But when Everlane started promoting a 25% discount on all menswear, I decided it was time. And well... I haven't been shopping in some time, so I got a bit carried away.

It's been years since I bought my jeans from Everlane; I don't own much else from them besides a few jackets. I have tried other items but haven't had much luck. Regardless, the sale caught my eye and got me browsing. I built my cart over a few days, primarily while on my phone. Everlane was not shy about letting me know I'd left items in my cart and the sale was still going, further enticing me to checkout.

When all was said and done, I bought nearly $1,000 in products for around $700. Given my experience, I didn't intend to keep everything I bought, but figured I'd maximize my options. During checkout, I learned about a program called Catch where you earn store credit by checking out with a bank. I was curious what it was all about, so I gave it a go and received nearly $40 in store credit.

My order arrived in two shipments, late last week and this weekend. Sure enough, besides the jeans and a couple of sweaters, I plan to return everything else because of the fit or style.

Rising returns

I don't have any data to support this, but I'd be willing to bet there's someone like me for every handful of shoppers out there. With the Black Friday Cyber Monday (BFCM) sale season around the corner, I find that a bit unsettling for brands. To Everlane, I look like a high-value customer right now.

BFCM is a BIG moment for many brands to gain new customers and boost sales. For some, their business may even revolve around the spike in BFCM sales. In the lead-up to BFCM, these brands obsess over capturing sales.

They seek out tactics to make customers convert. They brainstorm campaigns that can cut through the noise and then increase marketing spend. They intensify their focus on email and SMS to ensure shoppers don't overlook their offers, even if they try.

However, there's one crucial element missing—shoppers like me! While all this emphasis on getting customers to make a purchase is critical, wouldn't it be great if none of their purchases made it back to the warehouse?

Jake Disraeli, co-founder/CEO of resale platform Treet, tagged me in a LinkedIn post last week that touched on this very subject. According to Jake, "Shopify estimates that 30% of Holiday purchases will be returned. Yikes. With so many brands offering generous return policies over the Holidays to improve conversion, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a return rate as high as 40%."

Yikes is right.

Jake shared some thoughts on how to avoid this unfortunate outcome, and it struck a chord with me. Building on my Everlane experience, I thought I'd expand on his insights.

Here are some tips for fashion and apparel Shopify brands gearing up for BFCM, aiming to dodge those disheartening return rates and secure sales that will stick. While the Everlane website has some of these in place, denim is the only category with consistent execution. Go figure!

1) Don't leave fit to chance

Everlane has spent some time thinking about size and fit. They offer a size chart and measuring tips. However, the "size guide" is a tiny link on the product page that is easy to miss. Even then, measuring for size requires customers to step away from their computers and find a tape measure.

They also don't acknowledge sizing differences between products. For example, I bought the same size in a pair of chinos as my jeans. The chinos are snug; the jeans fit great. I'm a huge fan of Converse Chuck 70s. I like how they simply note the size differences on their product page.

I can't guarantee that helping customers find the right fit won't stop them from ordering several sizes and returning what they don't want. However, it's proven to reduce returns if done right.

True Fit is a great platform to help make this easy. They offer a set of features that guide customers to the right sizing, going as far as to compare with other brands. See it in action here (see: Which size fits me?).

2) Invest in User-Generated Content (UGC)

You can shoot all the product photography you want with unique and diverse models, but nothing can compare to the effectiveness of user-generated content. Customers love to see real people wearing and styling the products as they please. They can also trust the clothing hasn't been tampered with for the shoot or in post-production.

Everlane does a great job featuring UGC on their denim pages, but it was missing for all the other products I bought (and will now return).

A great way to drive UGC and close this gap is incentivizing customers to take photos of themselves wearing your products. Some tactics that work well are a post-purchase discount for posting and an action within a loyalty program. BFCM is a better time than ever to start incentivizing UGC. You can capitalize on the increase in sales and use discounts or loyalty to get customers to return to shop down the road.

A powerful way to encourage UGC and bridge this gap is to incentivize customers to share photos of themselves wearing the products, offering loyalty points, rewards, or discounts. BFCM presents an opportune time to kickstart incentivizing UGC, leveraging the surge in traffic and sales. Offering discounts for future purchases can also invite customers to shop again.

3) Pair reviews with customer attributes

I probably don't have to convince you that reviews are a helpful resource for customers while shopping. Did someone mention Amazon? But one way to level up reviews and make them more beneficial for customers is to gather the appropriate attributes from reviewers.

Everlane handles this well within denim, but oddly, not for all jeans or products. For most, you can see and filter by how tall reviewers are, how much they weigh, and their body type.

All of this and more is possible with Okendo. They not only facilitate the display of reviewers's attributes, but they also have built-in tactics for driving reviews post-purchase, like their loyalty program. While customer attributes displayed within reviews enhance the shopping experience, brands can also use this data to create more personalized experiences on-site and via email/SMS.

4) Try before you buy

Brands may implement everything outlined above and still have customers who feel skeptical. In that case, having a 'try before you buy' offering can help. Whether it's about size and fit, material, or just wanting to hold the product in hand, providing an opportunity to try the product with no strings attached might be just what the customer needs to make a purchase.

On the brand side, this can also instill more confidence in every order without the uncertainty of how much customers might return later.

Strategizing how to get a program started can be challenging, especially in time for the holidays. TryNow is a solid option to streamline this process.

5) Don't neglect post-purchase

I'm including post-purchase here because there's still an opportunity to educate and inform customers before they receive the product and hopefully make it stick.

The post-purchase experience is a moment to build on the hype the customer is already feeling. Send them styling tips, highlight product features, and provide any other information that can help them get the most out of their new purchase when it arrives.

Related: BL&T No. 152: How My Motorcycle Dealer Missed Out On Greater Customer Value

While you can achieve this manually through Klaviyo automation flows, Wonderment is a platform that leverages the order-tracking experience to foster customer loyalty and add value. It's quick to set up and start seeing value.

Closing Thoughts

While I focused these tactics on fashion and apparel, they can be applied more broadly across categories. For instance, we worked with a juicer brand for many years. It's surprising how important it is for customers to see the juicer on other customers' kitchen counters and hear how they've integrated it into their routine.

While employing some of these tactics might reduce return rates, some returns are inevitable. I won't delve too much into the returns side, but personally, I believe in making them free and as easy as possible, assuming you've addressed everything in this post. For years now, Everlane has had a $7 return fee. It would have discouraged me from purchasing, but they had a store by my office, so I'd stop by for any returns after work. They also have a store near me in Pennsylvania that I'll be checking out soon.

For more insights on creating a top-notch returns experience, check out my post, "Returns Don't Have to Suck." As a side note, don't overlook understanding why customers make returns! Remember to engage with your customers every now and then to gauge their sentiments about your brand and products.

Another avenue for managing returns is a resale platform like Treet. It not only positions your brand as environmentally conscious, but it's a fun way for customers to earn money on unwanted merchandise and continue engaging with the brand. Brands can also leverage it as a tool for selling pre-owned merchandise.

If you want to see Treet in action, check out Girlfriend Collective's 'Girlfriend to Girlfriend' store.


How well do I understand why my customers make returns? What can I do to minimize them?


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