Product returns: How digital shelf analytics can cut the cost


July 4, 2023

Product returns are costly for the environment and your bottom line. Could digital shelf analytics cut the cost?

Online retail has made product returns easier than ever. Indeed, without in-store shopping to compare products, some consumers will purchase a selection of sizes or styles with the specific intention of returning those items they do not want. However, many product returns, and the high financial and environmental costs they incur, can be avoided. 

Product returns aren’t just a B2C problem, either. While it’s true that returns are more common in areas like fashion and footwear, the increasing consumerization of B2B buying means even manufacturers are starting to feel the squeeze of product return costs. But there is hope for brands and manufacturers looking to reduce product returns: digital shelf analytics (DSA)

Are you ready to start your DSA journey?

Read the inriver “Brands guide to digital shelf analytics” to find out.

Why product returns are an issue

According to consumer research, the common reasons for returning products include: 

However, regardless of why the product is returned, the impacts on your business can be considerable. Returns mean higher logistics and resource costs, as well as greater product waste. This can cause a significant hit to your brand’s sustainability commitments, both through emissions and waste as unwanted products often find their way to landfill. Product returns can also dent brand loyalty, particularly if your products come back because they do not match their online listings.  

How can digital shelf analytics help reduce product returns? 

Many reasons for product returns come down to a poor customer experience on the digital shelf. This could be caused by incorrect or inaccurate product information, a deleted image or visual, or even a missing product-part relationship. That’s why monitoring your digital shelf is such an important part of selling online, and why so many brands and manufacturers are unlocking the power of digital shelf analytics.  

Digital shelf analytics software gives brands insight into three key aspects of their digital shelf operations: buyer behavior, product performance, and channel competition. This type of insight is invaluable if you’re selling online. From avoiding stock-outs or missing product listing content to seeing how you compare to your competitors, digital shelf analytics is a must-have software tool for any future-thinking e-commerce strategy.  

Plus, when it comes to helping reduce product returns, there are key advantages of having digital shelf analytics. 

Ensure accurate product information  

When it comes to the digital shelf, your products could be misrepresented by something as simple as a single missing letter or digit. This might sound like a small issue, but it can have significant implications for your customers. For example, a misplaced decimal point when buying a steel girder can leave your customers with an unusable product. If that girder is part of a larger construction project, it could mean substantial delays and mounting costs.  

Why is this information inaccurate in the first place? Unfortunately, the nature of the digital shelf means these things happen. Decimal points can slip. Numbers or words can disappear entirely. That’s why you need eyes and ears across all your channels, to tell you what’s wrong, and what you need to do to fix it. Creating and syndicating product content is only part of the equation. Digital shelf analytics software ensures your product information stays accurate and consistent across all your channels so you can avoid returns piling up.  

landfill at sunset

Maintain brand consistency  

Product information is your number one sales tool on the digital shelf. However, that doesn’t mean that your branding should take a back seat. Whether you’re trying to attract new customers or keep existing ones, ensuring your brand is consistent across all your online sales channels is essential to winning on the digital shelf. 

Digital shelf analytics software can boost the value of your brand as much as it does your products. If your brand identity – such as logos, information, and visuals – has been altered on any channel, your DSA software will alert you so you can fix it. Then your customers know exactly what they’re buying and are less likely to return their purchases. 

Keep an eye on prices 

If you are selling your products through multiple digital shelf channels and marketplaces, the prices of your products sold via these resellers may have fluctuated without you knowing. Price consistency can be a huge factor in how consumers perceive products. If your price point has a wide variance, it can be hard to get potential customers to trust your products enough to hit the buy button. And, if they do purchase and then see the price lower on another site, they are much more likely to return their purchase.  

DSA software can automatically analyze prices across your omnichannel digital shelf, helping you stay completely up-to-date on pricing. That way, once you become aware of any price increases or decreases, you can react accordingly. Since managing these updates by hand can be time-consuming and subject to costly human errors, many brands, manufacturers, and retailers rely on product information management software as their single source of truth. PIM software with built-in DSA capabilities can help you make changes effectively, efficiently, and accurately.  

Leverage the power of product reviews 

Reviews are often a crucial part of the buying process for consumers. From product listing page reviews to dedicated websites that rank and compare brands and products, reviews have great weight on the digital shelf. Indeed, people are more likely to buy a product that has customer reviews than one that has none. And if the reviews can be trusted, that means the product is more likely to be trusted.  

Digital shelf analytics will help you keep an eye on the ways consumers are talking about your products. Not only can you set up alerts if one of your products has fewer reviews than comparable products, but DSA can also help you identify – and then respond to – negative reviews. This will help build trust in your brand and your products, and reduce your risk of future product returns.  

Better analytics. Better decisions.  

No matter what you’re selling online or where there is one thing that’s key to your success on the digital shelf: data. Ensuring you have insightful, actionable data on your products is the first step to improving your omnichannel strategy and reducing your product returns.  

Digital shelf analytics is the software solution that can transform your online sales and help you tap into a range of benefits that stretch far beyond reducing product returns. Our comprehensive guide to digital shelf analytics has everything you need to know about DSA and the benefits of PIM with built-in digital shelf analytics. Want the market analyst’s view? The Gartner© Market Guide for Digital Shelf Analytics is currently available on our website. Get the report now to find out how you can sell smarter online. 

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  • Joakim Gavelin

    VP Digital Shelf Services

    Joakim has over 25 years experience in people, sales and business management, helping brands and business increase their presence, sales and profit. With deep knowledge in retail sales and intelligence to consumer behavior to global sales, he is familiar with both B2C and B2B - no matter the size, industry or location of company.

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