NSFE: the "Frequently returned item" badge?


Just this week, I was looking at yarn winders on Amazon because my local b&m stores are out of stock. I was on the fence about one, until I saw the big yellow “frequently returned”–and on the fence became hard pass.

The OP has 2 questions:

1. Why did Amazon apply this label when I don’t have “that many” returns?

I did a bit of research online. In 2021, the average return rate for ecom was 21% with Sellers reporting rates well into the 30 percents. On Amazon, most categories see 5-15% rates, with clothes and electronics reporting the highest rates. For most products sold on Amazon, average translates to 5-10 returns per month, but that monthly average varies wildly and is category-dependent.

So for OP to say they have “not that many” returns isn’t helpful, and even if they provided an actual rate (# items returned in 30 days/# items sold in the same 30 days), that might still not be helpful without knowing the category. (This answer from KJ_Amazon on an older thread basically says this.)

The data needed are:

  1. Return rate for the item (and is OP the only Seller?)
  2. Category
  3. Average return rate for category
  4. What Amazon considers “significantly higher” and what specific metric (mean, mode, median) they use in the calculation
  5. What is Amazon’s trigger point (i.e., what number and for how long) for applying the yellow FR label

If OP would provide 1 and 2, we can guess about 3 based on various non-Amazon data available, and then start building some ideas about 4 and 5. If OP shares category and other Sellers in the same category also with the FR label report their return rates, then we would be really cooking!

But honestly even getting just OP to nail down specifics is unlikely.

2. How can I get rid of the FR label?

The basic answer is to sell more items but maintain/reduce the number of items returned. That will decrease the return rate, although how much of a decrease is needed for Amazon to consider it “within normal limits” (WNL, borrowing from my day job) is unknown.

These sources have some specific suggestions for increasing sales while reducing the number of items returned. Neither I nor SAS are affiliated with these sources. Linking here does not imply endorsement of their products, services, or recommendations.

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Data I remember seeing estimates 20% returns in clothing and autoparts and lower in all other categories on Amazon.

I have trouble believing the ecom return rate estimate. Probably from marketpulse or some other source that has little access to real data.

But I do not have access to real data either. And I am trusting my memory.

I like the concept of the frequently returned badge. There is a lot of crap in this world, and online reviews are unreliable. Whether the returns are due to a crummy product, too high a price or a poor catalog page, the warning to potential buyers is welcome.

I have from time to time bought products for my own use from liquidators, including some that were Costco returns. Before I bought, I researched why these items would be in quantity at a liquidator. They were from quality manufacturers.

I found that in one case a Sony DVR, the returns were due to the absence of a tuner. This was at the time of transition from analog to digital TV. Buyers did not understand what they were buying and what they needed to hook it up.

In another case, I bought a product Walmart dumped into liquidation. It was the lowest priced digital camera on the market. It lacked features buyers wanted in order to meet the price goal. I bought a load for pennies on the dollar. I blew the pricing for the item away on Amazon. Buyers bought at that price quickly in spite of negative reviews. Had no returns. It had appropriate value.

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Reading through these, we have an item that has return issues. Despite our efforts to return proof the listing. More details to follow.

In the first link, they bring up an interesting point, though they do not bring it up. You have to look at FBA returns and FBM returns from both sides. Specifically, “Item not what I ordered.” We get a lot of those, AND we find that Amazon put a FNSKU over our barcode. They caused the problem, and now we get a “badge” (We don’t need no stinkin badges) due to an error they made.

The last link is plastered with ads for a service the offer to solve the problem.

“Film at 11” for the young folk here, we are going to look into this further, (develop the film) and report back.

If enough other Buyers are taking the time and effort to return the item-- that’s good info for me.

But like @Image points out, that return issue could have been created by FBA and not by the product itself. :grimacing: I had not really considered that, even though I have received many items via FBA that were clearly used/damaged and should not have been in resellable stock in the first place.

:woman_facepalming: And this is yet another warehouse-created issue, even beyond not properly gauging resell ability. That’s just good ol’ incompetence right there.

How can Sellers protect FBA goods from Buyers and the FC? Yikes.

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We buy a Levi item that just recently had the badge. This style of Levi and size we have bought for years. Amazon was the seller and the shipper ( a duh statement but notable). Since these Levis had the badge, we decided to research a little. Amazon had only one pair and we want 4 pairs. Upon researching, we discovered that nobody was in stock on this item including the Levi online store. After buying these for years, it appears Levi is discontinuing the style. Ok … styles go out of style. But this badge was never there before. Could it be that because the style is discontinued that Amazon had returns that they tried to recycle back out through FBA as the manufacturer no long is accepting returns on flaws? Send out something with a flaw and get it back … repeat process … repeat process … and a normally good product now has a badge of dishonor.

The possibilities on how an item can get the badge is endless … from bad product to bad merchant handling of a good product.

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21% average return rate feels high to me.

I also support the frequently returned badge.

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That number is insane. It would basically mean you need like 25% profit margins just to break even from eating the costs of all the returns (assuming the products you receive back are no longer in new condition, which is most likely the case)

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I also support the frequently returned badge.

I find the whole idea odd. Why advertise ‘we sell crap’. :thinking: Is that a good marketing strategy that I’m not aware of?

I also think reviews are vastly overrated. Surely I’m not the only person who doesn’t believe that someone else’s opinion of a product would be the same as my opinion of it.

21% average return rate feels high to me.

It sounds insanely high to me. I did a quick Google check too and would really like to know where these people are getting their statistics. This is mentioned frequently:

Did you know at least 30% of all products ordered online are returned as compared to 8.89% in brick-and-mortar stores.

That’s total baloney, not just the 30% of ecommerce returns, but the 9% of B&M store returns. I used to have a gift-type store. Nobody ever returned stuff. Think about all the things you buy - clothes, small appliances, tools, hardware, decor, linens, assorted widgets… do you return anywhere near one out of every 10 things purchased? Those numbers are crazy out of line.

I’m sure the statistics are valid, based on whatever criteria they’re using to calculate it, but there’s no way nearly 9% of all the merchandise that leaves Target (or Walmart, or Best Buy, or Kroger, or Office Depot or Lowes or … ) eventually comes back.

I see the returned frequently as the new metric since reviews are useless.

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I see the returned frequently as the new metric since reviews are useless

The new metric? Why does there need to be any metric at all? Just make the product available, and if I want it, I’ll buy it. Not on Amazon, of course, but somewhere. LOL.

I just don’t relate to it when websites suggest that I need someone else’s help (another random, unknown shopper, or an Amazon metric) to make up my mind whether I want to buy something or not. SMH…

There is one possibility for how the crazy number could be close to reality.

If you factor in the crazy amount of ‘shrink’, unless a store has a ‘no receipt, no refund’ policy, people returning items that they got through five finger discounts would drastically increase the percentages since those items were never in the ‘sold’ category.

The amount of stolen goods is a bigger problem than returns will ever be but I suspect they can mess with the statistics on legitimate sales and return percentages.

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I’m still skeptical. Not discounting the number of thieves out there, but I’m looking at my own consumer behavior.

Instead of thinking like a seller, put on your buyer hat and ask yourself if you return 1 out of every 10 pairs of socks (or underwear, or jeans, or shoes…) you buy. Do you return 1 out of 10 can openers? Hair brushes? Blenders? Pieces of lumber? Parts for your car? CD/DVD’s? Wine glasses? Frying pans? Bed sheets? Pillows? Lighters? Paper towels?

As online sellers, we buy bubble mailers, bubble wrap, toner cartridges, labels, and printer paper all the time. Do you start a return for every 10th purchase??? Does anyone?

Seriously… 1 out of EVERY 10??? No way… (For ease of argument, I rounded the 8.9% up to 10%)

I agree. Reviews are complete hogwash for many products with fake reviews and hijacked listings.

But Amazon is working really hard to combat these (sarcasm completely intended)

These are all very good starting points for analyzing the data. Numbers are meaningless unless we can understand what goes into the making of the statistical data.

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@Pepper_Thine_Angus @Roxy @dwat0870 re: return rate accuracy…

I suspect both the 20% and 9% are accurate average return rates (from stores who self-report), where clothes and textbooks would skew both numbers quite high if only looking at mean.

What y’all are talking about is median and mode: what is the middle (not average) of the rates (when sorted in order, individually), and what is the most common rate experienced by stores (the minimum you can expect and plan for)?

I’m sure that Nike stores, Party City, and college bookstores have higher return rates than Hallmark, JoAnn, or Build-A-Bear. And none of those are clothing stores.

Average is a useful but incomplete data point and will be more sensitive to the outliers (extremes).

@dwat0870 without knowing how each store calculates their return rates, I would hesitate to assume that b&m stores (9%) include shrink in return rates. But the ecom stores (20%) certainly can’t.

@Roxy I don’t know but am curious whether Amazon-branded products would carry the FR label, if they met Amazon’s internal criteria :smirk:

Yep. One number is never the whole truth.

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If a Levi jean sold and shipped by Amazon has had the badge, there would be no reason an Amazon-branded item might also. However, we think Amazon would be quick to drop any Amazon-branded item that would be approaching the criteria of the badge.

Amazon will do what Amazon has to do to maintain what Amazon believes is a good image.

“Except to support sellers” is an ‘understood’ following sentence, correct? :grimacing: :grimacing:

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I’ll agree to this!

One needs to consider the fact that many big retailers get deductions from the invoice on their inventory purchases as a return allowance, whether they get any returns.

A 20% returns rate on clothing does not mean that they are losing the cost of 1 in 5 items. The manufacturer is subsidizing these returns.

Manufacturers often subsidize markdowns on slow turning items. Those 30% off racks of clothes at Macy’s are not all coming out of Macy’s profits.

I know many people who never try on any item in a store, and return what does not fit. Some even buy multiple sizes and keep the one that fits best.

Retail is a brutal business.

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I suspect both the 20% and 9% are accurate average return rates (from stores who self-report), where clothes and textbooks would skew both numbers quite high if only looking at mean.

I don’t know. I’m good at math, but never studied statistics. But when someone tells me there’s a 9% return rate, that tells me that of every 9 purchases made, 1 is returned. I think that’s ridiculously high, based on casual observations of the shoppers that surround me.

For certain types of stores to have such high returns that they cause the average to be 9% overall is still hard to believe. Yes, some businesses have much higher return rates. But the majority of other businesses have close to zero returns, so instead of thinking the high-return stores bring the average up, I’d think the low-return stores bring the averages way down. To think that the average is 9% when you combine them all is mind-blowing. :exploding_head:

I read one thing online that said something like 45% of online shoppers returned something (ie at least one thing) in the last year. That says that 55% of online shoppers returned 0 of the items they bought, and the 45% who did do ‘a return’ didn’t elaborate on how many returns they made. I’d guess that it’s a small portion of the total amount of stuff they bought.

curious whether Amazon-branded products would carry the FR label, if they met Amazon’s internal criteria :smirk:

Absolutely not. LOL. Any negative badges would be programmed to be invisible on Amazon branded products, the same way negative feedback is now invisible on Warehouse Deals. :laughing:

I’m getting an 11.11% return rate for 1 out of 9. For 9% it would be 9 out 0f 100, and 1 out of 10 would be 10%.

As Lake notes above, returns can be brutal but the manufacturers (in some industries) help the retailers out with that which makes it less painful.

It’s almost poetic justice when sites like Amazon start their own private labels and don’t end up with those subsidies.

In any case, retailers have bigger problems due to ‘social policies’ which preclude actually holding thieves accountable for theft from brick and mortar stores. They will all need to establish a ‘no receipt, no refund’ rule to offset the lack of prosecution.

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