How Product Descriptions Can Help Reduce Those Costly Returns : ThunderWord Copywriting Blog

How Product Descriptions Can Help Reduce Those Costly Returns

by J.W. Abraham on 12/18/16

Sales, Sales, Sales.

When addressing product descriptions, the focus is mostly on how to increase sales.

And, it should be.

But, product descriptions can also affect another part of your business.

It's the dark side of business. The side that nobody seems to want to talk about.

It's those costly returns. 

It's something that is especially on the minds of ecommerce and catalog companies during the holidays. 

Returns happen to almost every business. Some more than others. For instance, clothing probably has much more than others.

And then there is the cost of handling all of those returns.

These are just the costs we can count too.

There also may be opportunity costs that we cannot count. Who knows how it could affect sales too? Customers may decide not to buy from your business again. They may take to social media and express their dissatisfaction with the product or service they received.

Then, there are other customers who don't return a product or speak up about their problem. They just don't return to your site or store. These are the quiet customers. But, they are critical to many businesses.

One way to reduce returns is by providing complete and accurate product descriptions. 

It's an area that many e-commerce and catalog companies could spend more time and resources addressing.

Here are the two major areas you need to address.

1. Don't Overpromise

This may be the biggest issue. And, this may be the thing that makes consumers most angry.

Yes, you want to sell. And, it's easy to get caught up in creative enthusiasm. But don't ever over promise what a product can do.

Not everything is the greatest thing since slide bread.

If you say it is tough as nails, and then the product breaks the first time the customer uses it, you have a problem. Probably a return and a bad review.

If you say it will hold a charge for a certain number of hours. It better not wear down before hand.

If you say the jacket is truly waterproof, and it is not, you will have a wet and mad customer on your hands. As well as a lot of returned jackets.

A good guide is to refrain from the broad statements full of hyperbole. Instead, be as detailed as you can, and understand what your product really can and can't do.

Think about it from the customer's view. Don't overpromise.

2. Accurately Address the Product's Essential Features

When I look at product reviews on some ecommerce site, one of the things that make me cringe is someone who says "product was not as described".

I am like really? How could this be? What was missed? What was wrong?

But, for many products there are lots of features and elements to them. It can be easy to miss something.

That's why I think it is important that you and your copywriting team develop and follow product checklists. I am a big believer in checklists. Anyway, these would include the critical components that a would-be buyer would need to know about this product.

Obviously, these checklists would be different for each category of products.

Yet, there are certain types of features that apply to most products that should be included in the product description.

Here are some of the main ones.

Size of Product

It is extremely important to include the size of a product. A customer can easily be disappointed if what they receive is not the size they expected.

For hard goods, whether it is a gadget or something like furniture, size is paramount. It makes a difference whether that item will fit in a certain storage space or in a room. Often, the customer has a place in mind of where that product will go. And, if it does not work, the customer is unhappy.

It is important for soft goods too. Of course, it is necessary for soft luggage. But, it is a huge issue for clothing. I bet one of the biggest reasons for the return of clothing is that it does not fit as expected.

For clothing, state the sizing as accurate as you can. If it is slim fit or relaxed fit say so. If it runs large, say so. And, if possible include a size guide that gives the customer more details of what you mean by a Large size.


Related to size is a product's weight.

As so many customers are more mobile these days they are looking for lightweight items. Whether it is gadgets, tools or even clothing, people don't want to be weighed down.

Stating the weight can also be good so the customer won't be surprised by the shipping costs if it is more than what he or she expected.

Product Material

This is huge too. Customers want to know what something is made of.

This is especially true of apparel. Many customers are very partial to certain fabrics. Is it cotton, polyester, a blend or some high-tech material? Also, is the material smooth, textured, thick or thin?

And don't forget to state the material for hard goods. Is it plastic and the customer expected metal? Another disappointed customer. And, if it is metal, how thick is it?

Product Color

Always state the color too, and try to state the color as accurately as possible.

Yes, the pictures should shoulder much of the work here. But sometimes the images are not accurate on a screen or in a catalog. Sometimes it is hard to say if that is black or dark navy.

That's why you should always include captions with each color image, and in the copy state the colors in the same order that they are shown. Make it as easy as possible for the customer to determine the color.

What's Included

Make sure the customer knows what is included with the product. Customers can feel shortchanged if they don't receive something that they were expecting.

That means tell the customer what accessories come with it and if it comes with a storage case or gift box that makes it easy to wrap.

What Kind of Batteries

Speaking of telling customers what is included. If you are selling something that runs on batteries, tell your customers if they are included. If your customers think batteries are included and they are not, they likely won't be happy when they get it and turn it on.

Also tell your customers what kind of batteries it runs on. Is it a common AA or some harder to find battery? It may matter to your customer.


Of course, copywriting and product descriptions are not the blame for all the returns. Again, the pictures can play a part too. And, then there is problem of damaged or defective products. And, when it comes to gifts there isn't much you can do if what the giver thinks would make a good gift does not match what the receiver's taste.

Still, product descriptions can play a huge role in reducing costly returns. 

They can play a huge role in managing customers' expectations. 

And, as more customers shop online those expectations will be more important than ever in determining the number of returns, both during the holidays and all year round.

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