How to Minimize Ecommerce Returns Through Passive Sales Qualification

Ecommerce returns are a huge problem for online merchants, digging into the profits of online merchants and demanding resources that could be used elsewhere to grow their online business.

Merchants can reduce these returns by examining and learning from a tactic used in direct sales called Sales Qualification, which helps ensure that the product is the right fit for the potential customer.

This post will explain what sales qualification is and how ecommerce merchants can apply the concept to their online store to reduce ecommerce returns and increase profits.

What is Sales Qualification?

There is a part in the sales process called “Sales Qualification”, which is where the salesperson determines whether or not the potential customer is a good fit for the product that they are selling.   This process is different when selling products to customers through an online store, but the concept can benefit ecommerce merchants when it comes to reducing online returns.

Zoominfo defines Sales Qualification this way:

Sales qualification is the act of evaluating potential prospects to determine whether they possess the characteristics that make them a good fit for your product or service. In simpler terms – qualifying a lead or prospect means determining whether or not they are worth your time.

In the person to person sales process, Sales Qualification typically comes in the form proactively asking the potential customer a number of questions in order to determine if they’re a good fit for the product.   If they’re not a good fit, they won’t try to sell that potential customer because there is a good chance it’s not going to satisfy either them or the company selling the product.

How Sales Qualification Applies to Ecommerce Merchants

In the ecommerce space, the part in the definition of “determining whether or not they are worth your time” comes in the form of determining whether the product that they’re ordering is worth you packing and shipping the item…and the likeliness of that item being returned to you because the customer was not a good fit.

Up to 30% of products sold by ecommerce merchants are returned, showing a significant percentage of products being delivered that weren’t a fit for the customer.   That’s a very expensive problem.

Ecommerce merchants certainly won’t want to make each customer go through a questionnaire before they check out, that would be off-putting and you’d lose more sales than you’d save in returns.   What you do want to do is explore passive ways you can qualify your customers to ensure that the product is a good fit for their needs.  As a result, and you sell to  customers who are not likely to return the product afterwards and guide customers who aren’t a good fit to products that will effectively fulfill their needs.

How to Use the Concept to Reduce Returns

Let’s cover a few ways that you can passively confirm that the product is a great fit for the customer, so that the representation that they have in their minds and expectations are aligned with what will be delivered to their doorstep.

1) Confirm the Product’s Visual Representation

You want to ensure that the customer has a clear and accurate view of what the product is going to look like visually.   This typically comes in the form of quality product images, 360 views of the product, as well as product videos.   Letting them see the product at different angles allows them to inspect it and ensure that the picture they have in their head will be consistent with what they receive after shipping.

Product videos are great because you can have a person review the product, and the customer gets perspective of what a product will look like when in the hands of another person which may give perspective on size, dimensions,  and other aspects of the product that may not be 100% clear through just looking at an image.   There are negative reviews of products that say something like “This was much smaller/bigger than I expected”, you can help solve those misunderstandings by showing the product in context as another person holds the product in their hands in a video.

2) Confirm the Products Details and Specifications

Sometimes customers are using the product to fit a specific need with a very specific purpose, and product details are very important for these cases.  For example, if they’re looking for a house item which will fit within a specific place within their house or if they are looking for a replacement that needs to be compatible with another part, it’s important that they’re able to find out all the specifications they need in order to determine whether the product is a match for their needs.

Engaging product details are important to provide this information, as well as specification tables and diagrams which can help clarify exact length, height, width, and other details about the product that are important for the purchaser.

Make sure you provide these details in a way that let’s the customer find exactly what they may be interested within the description or specifications, and qualify themselves that the product is a fit for their needs.   This will save them a lot of headache and save you money, ensuring they get the right product that they’ll keep and not return.

3) Confirm Any Other Specifics They Want to Know About

There are bound to other specifics about a product that you don’t have covered in your images, descriptions, and specifications….or sometimes customers find it less painful to just order a product and return it for free than considering reading through all of the product specifications to ensure it’s exactly what they’re looking for.   Some product descriptions are very, very long…and not everybody wants to read through paragraphs to find the information that they’re interested in seeing.   You should make it easy for them to fill in these information gaps or find the specific piece of information they’re looking for, which will either seal the deal for that customer or save you from a return.

On the product page, this comes in the form of product questions and answers.  Give your users an easy way to specifically ask the question they have about the product and find a well-crafted answer.   This process not only helps you reduce returns, but you can also increase conversions.

We see that up to 75% of product questions answered through Answerbase convert to a sale, but for questions that reveal that the product may not be a good match for the customer…responses on Q&A can lead those customers to other products within your inventory that are a great match.   This not only increases conversions for the product that customers are looking at, but also turns potential returns into more conversions of other products where the purchase will stick.

In closing…

Everybody recognizes that online returns are a big problem, and costly.  Taking a tip from the sales process and sales qualification, you can passively qualify the visitors on your site to ensure they purchase products that are a great fit for their needs, which will be more profitable for your business.