October 19, 2007, 12:00 AM

Return-O-Meter reduces returns and boosts click-throughs for Shoeline.com

Online footwear retailer Shoeline.com has experienced fewer returns and a higher click-through rate since introducing the Return-O-Meter, which shows how often a particular style is returned.

Online footwear retailer Shoeline.com has experienced fewer returns and a higher click-through rate since introducing the Return-O-Meter, a design element on the product page that visually represents how often a particular style is returned.

Since the launch of the Return-O-Meter in May 2006, returns have dropped 11% year-over-year and click-through rates from product pages to checkout have increased 18%, says Frank Malsbenden, vice president and general manager of Shoeline’s parent company, Vision Retailing Inc.

Shoeline.com developed the Return-O-Meter after a new shoe brand added to the site produced a higher-than-average return rate. “People didn’t really understand how the shoe fit because it was a brand that didn’t exist before so it had no sales history,” he says.

The temptation in such cases is to remove from the site styles that get returned a lot, Malsbenden says. “I didn’t want to do that because I didn’t want to stand in the way between a customer and the style that the customer might really, really like,” he says. “In our experience, anytime we limit selection, sales drop.”

As an alternative, Malsbenden developed the Return-O-Meter, which helps customers make better choices.

The Return-O-Meter tracks returns for each product on a graphic element similar to an odometer. If a statistically significant number of shoppers cite the same reason for returning an item-such as finding a shoe too small or narrow-it also will be listed.

“I really believe that today’s customer appreciates when a retailer tells them the truth,” Malsbenden says. “And I felt that we could increase our credibility with the consumer by adding this feature.”

While consumers loved the new feature, shoe designers and vendors were unhappy about the Return-O-Meter, Malsbenden says. But he says he’s found instances where sales of a product increased despite the graphic showing a high return rate.

“I explain to them they should not be upset about this,” Malsbenden says. “It might give them feedback they can use in their design process for the next season.”

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