How Retail Brands Can Use Social Proof to Reduce Return Rates

By Lindsay Macdonald - August 7, 2019
3 mins read time
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Remember the expectations vs. reality meme? It seems there’s no situation more susceptible to a discrepancy between reality and expectations than online shopping. For example, let’s view the man below, who thought he was buying a room-sized rug, but instead received a rug the size of a Poptart.Or, this teddy bear, which, in a curious turn of events, arrived sans stuffing. Why would anyone want the teddy without the bear?

Or even this wedding dress, which arrived much, uh, greener than it appeared online. Question mark.Or, my personal favorite: this tiny TV stand. Why are so many products so much smaller in person than they appear online? Are our expectations just too big — literally? Sigh.The point is that consumers share a collective worry that the products or services they buy online won’t turn out to be as good as they were expecting. When customers receive products that don’t live up to their expectations, they return them — simple as that. In fact, 89 percent of consumers have returned an online purchase in the last three years. Maybe 89 percent of consumers have received an unexpectedly deflated teddy bear?

So, how can online brands reduce these return rates? By prioritizing real, authentic visuals.

In a recent study, 29 percent of consumers reported finding photos from other customers useful when making an online purchase decision, and 29 percent of consumers (41 percent of Millennials and 40 percent Gen Z) prefer to see a product as it’s worn or used by real people as opposed to photoshopped product images.

However, retailers still aren’t prioritizing authentic content. According to the same study, only 16 percent of retailers offer user-generated content on their website, and only 2 percent of brands show this content in their email newsletters.

Don’t let this strategy fall to the wayside. Here are five stops in the buyer’s journey where your brand should implement user-generated content to reduce return rates.


As a first look into a product’s efficacy and value, visual social proof on the homepage can pull shoppers in and get them engaged right at the moment of arrival.

When customers can see other happy customers right away, they build up an immediate sense of trust for the brand. Shoppers will take that trust with them through the purchase journey, because they can be confident their product expectations will be met.

For brands like LUSH Cosmetics, UGC on the homepage has been extremely successful. Not only does the beauty and skincare brand feature authentic content, but they make that social proof actionable with ShopSpots — and they’ve increased impressions by 333 percent as a result.

User-generated content at the introductory point of the sales funnel is essential to laying the groundwork for satisfied customers.

Product Pages

User-generated content on product pages is a strategy proven to nurture shoppers along the purchase journey. In fact, people are 6x more likely to make a purchase if the product page features images from social media. For brands like Mazda, that means incorporating social proof on the site showing the product in action.

When shoppers can see genuine social recommendations right on the product page, they’re more inclined to make a purchase they can trust.

Shopping Cart Reminders

By implementing authentic content into shopping cart reminder emails, brands reinvigorate shoppers who left the site without making a purchase. Personalizing reminder emails based on the buyer can help brands nurture shoppers back into the buying cycle.DTC beauty brand Glossier is an expert at developing personalized reminder emails like these. With emails that feature authentic product content, like the photo above, or individualized discounts on the products shoppers showed interest in, the brand sees more purchases (with less returns).

Email Newsletters

User-generated content across email newsletters not only provides information to existing customers; it provides inspiration to prospects who might be thinking about a purchase. Consumers’ inboxes are already full of promotional emails — with visual social proof and real recommendations featured above the fold, your newsletter can rise above the rest and make an immediate impact.

Brands like Jessop’s Camera feature customer photos in email newsletters. Fostering a sense of community, while featuring products, is guaranteed to build trust while reducing returns.

Brands can also look to emphasize top-rated products in their newsletters with real social images customers have shared. Showcasing this content builds authority, and shows that brands value their community of customers. And, shoppers are much more convinced by UGC; 79 percent of people say user-generated content highly impacts their purchase decisions, as opposed to 13 percent who said branded images are impactful and 8 percent who said influencer content was influential.

Social Media

Publishing authentic content not only across the site, but across social channels ensures an omnichannel experience for customers still in discovery or decision mode.

A social feed should be a feed of happy customers. Brands like Tommee Tippee feature customer-created social content across their feed, creating a personal and engaging experience before a shopper even gets to the website.

Other parents can see these baby products in use, and they can feel confident that the products will work for them too.

Social proof reduces return rates and increases trust. With user-generated content leveraged across a marketing strategy, brands remove the discrepancy between expectations and reality, and instead serve successful customer experiences that breed loyalty.

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