Too Many Returns? How to Utilize SMS to Gather Reviews & Improve the Buying Experience

Mobile is being leveraged in a multitude of new ways for e-commerce, as shoppers increasingly opt for the convenience of their smartphone. But while SMS marketing has been adopted by many brands, the use of SMS to handle returns and the post-purchase experience has so far been under-utilized.

A recent survey by e-commerce marketing platform Yotpo found that 85% of respondents have purchased clothing or accessories online in the past 12 months – significantly more than the second most popular category of food and beverage (63%). However, this subsequently led to the highest number of returns as well: 45% of consumers have returned clothes and accessories in the same period.

The returns market is a huge revenue drain on the industry but especially for e-commerce sellers, as the online purchase experience doesn’t allow for try-on or in-person quality assessment. When asked for the motivations behind their product return, respondents in the Yotpo survey named issues mostly associated with buying online: poor fit (65%), not as described (39%), looked different in person (33%).

While these issues can’t be entirely resolved within a virtual format, the survey did provide a few ways that companies can reduce the disconnect between the online and physical product. In particular, the use of customer-generated content and a supportive SMS strategy was advocated as a means to cut down on returns.

“It’s critical to bridge the online-offline gap with reviews and ratings to ensure the right purchase,” said Raj Nijjer, VP of brand marketing at Yotpo. “Brands need to convey a sense of authenticity, helping potential buyers to envision how your products might look in real life by surfacing relevant reviews. An on-site Reviews widget with AI technology allows you to automatically present topic filters according to their prominence in reviews.”

Some leaders in the space have incorporated comprehensive fit guidelines into their e-commerce product pages, but Yotpo has found that consumers commonly trust their peers more than the brand. A previous survey reported that 98% of respondents listed customer reviews as their most influential purchasing factor, while 77% said that authentic customer photos affect their purchase decisions more than professional photos.

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SMS is one of the only marketing channels that invites a dialogue between customer and brand, as opposed to a one-way communication.
CREDIT: ant - Adobe Stock

But brands can still take action and drive that review creation. With an open rate of 98%, SMS has been shown to be the most effective messaging channel for e-commerce shoppers. The nature of the engagement also encourages a conversation as opposed to a one-way dialogue, which can provide an opportunity for brands. Yotpo recommends that companies leverage SMS to request product reviews from customers; SMS review requests see a 66% higher conversion rate compared to email review requests.

Lastly, Yotpo emphasized that there will always be some unavoidable returns, especially as a number of consumers purposefully order multiple sizes or styles in order to pick a favorite. Instead of a sunk cost, brands should try to see these situations as an opportunity for a positive brand engagement.

Organizing their return through SMS lets customers engage on their preferred platform, which predisposes them well toward the brand. It also starts a conversation in which brands ask the reason of the return; extend a promotional offer or discount code; or recommend an alternative product, to keep customers engaged — and shopping.

“When returns do happen, ensuring that the process is as positive as possible is essential,” said the report’s authors. “While a flexible returns policy is important, reengaging a customer who has made a return through SMS can transform a dissatisfied returnee into a brand-loyal, repeat purchaser.”

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