Return shipments: Items that fit do not get returned
Return shipments: Items that fit do not get returned

Returned goods cannot be avoided completely in e-commerce. But smart tools and the right information can help reduce returns to a minimum. Otto Group companies are setting a good example.

Returns are unwanted. Attempts are made to avoid them because they cost money. As a rule, the transport costs are paid by the retailers, and they are inevitably stuck with the expenses involved in reviewing and reconditioning the goods. But returns are also an inconvenience for customers. The goods have to be repackaged and shipped – all of which takes time and effort. Plus, it results in more CO₂e, something to be avoided. The same applies to the very rare case – at least within the Otto Group – that the returned goods can no longer be sold and are thus consigned to second-hand trade or even to recyclers. However, it is also clear that the right to return goods – not only in the case of defects but also if the customer is dissatisfied or has made a selection order – is an integral part of e-commerce. So returns cannot be avoided completely. But how can they be reduced? After all, that would be in everyone’s interest.

Designing the range to be smart

The Otto Group and its Group companies are advancing on this goal in various ways. For example, it is well known that the range composition affects the return rate. Simply put, the more popular the items are, the less frequently they are returned. Bonprix is one company that takes advantage of this. The “Learning Collection” makes it possible to predict more reliably how successfully an item will sell. The forecasts generated by artificial intelligence (AI) help the responsible product management team make even better decisions about new items: Poorly predicted products are not included in the range in the first place; other items are optimized, such as by changing the colors.


percent of returns, offered by us in private label and licensed brands or distributed by us as a retailer, go directly back into sales after inspection.


The proportion of returned goods that can no longer be sold or donated is measured in thousandths of a percent.

The goal: finding the right size online

One of the most common reasons for returns is that a garment does not fit or does not fit perfectly. AI can help here, too. Bonprix uses Fit Finder – developed by the Berlin-based company Fit Analytics – for this purpose. This tool makes recommendations based on information from Bonprix customers as well as on purchase and product data from Fit Analytics, which is analyzed and evaluated with the help of AI. As a result, not only are the purchased items highly likely to fit perfectly – the webshop personalization also noticeably increases customer loyalty.

In general, the aim is to provide potential buyers with all relevant information. This includes detailed product photography, which increasingly relies on computer-generated imagery (CGI): images that can be rotated and viewed from any angle and have a zoom-in feature. Furthermore, e-commerce offers the possibility of providing a great deal of additional information about the product – from how “big it sizes” to the material and washing instructions. Ideally, no question is left unanswered. OTTO is also responding to the fact that many customers are increasingly considering other customer reviews in their purchasing decisions. Since it is easy to lose track of the large number of reviews, OTTO provides a special service: AI filters out the most relevant results and compiles them for customers.

If a customer places multiple orders in different sizes, a friendly message pops up on some of our Group company websites asking them to reconsider their decision. This is done entirely without any finger-wagging: The customers are simply reminded that it is more convenient for them to avoid the trouble of making the returns that are always required in the case of multiple orders.

Comprehensive information – such as through smart sorting of product ratings – reduces the number of returns.

Comprehensive, human advice

Another reason why returns are more frequent in e-commerce than in brick-and-mortar retail is the fact that customers are usually left to their own devices when shopping online. Advice, an essential part of the in-store shopping experience, tends to be lacking here, meaning there is no expert sales recommendation regarding how well a product will fit. This is precisely what the Otto Group is working on. Our Group companies also stand out from their competitors by making the shopping experience human and personal. Employees can always be reached by phone – without the need to endure a long wait listening to music on a loop. Companies like OTTO, Sheego, and Mirapodo also offer live shopping events where customers can ask questions about the products. After all, the more customers are informed about a product, the more likely that their wishes will be met – and that they will keep it.

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