Revealed: How Successful Businesses are Outsourcing Supply Chain Management

The Trials and Tribulations of E-retailers

Online clothing retailers all run into the same brick wall when they do the same seemingly ridiculous thing: try to convince customers to buy apparel online, where shoppers can’t try it on before purchasing.Wine Glass

The story is a trope by now. A customer goes online, sees something they like and approximates how the product will fit. Let’s say a pair of trousers comes in the mail a few days later with some unexpected and unappealing sag in the bottom. Now the customer is left to negotiate an awkward and costly returns process, which affects both the customer’s satisfaction and the company’s bottom line.

Part of the overall dissatisfaction in this scenario is the customer’s awareness ahead of time that the returns process is often clumsy, time consuming, and sometimes requires additional expense. Consumers and business leaders both understand how the power of uncertainty or a looming difficulty can shut down a market — the current fiscal cliff situation is a case study of this; but, uncertainty can also shut down much smaller markets, like the market for online clothing.

If a customer is unsure whether something will fit, they are less likely to purchase. If a customer is unsure whether returning a product that doesn’t fit will be a huge pain, they are even less likely to purchase. This uncertainty is a barrier to increased sales and therefore a barrier to business growth.

The solution, then, is clear: remove the uncertainty. Integrate the customer experience into the business model and make it obvious, intuitive, and free to return products and receive replacements. The idea may be simple, but implementing the solution can be tedious and costly for businesses unless…