Projektnamn: Investigating the Influence of Pre-Purchase Information on Product Returns

Projektledare: Alexander Mafael, Handelshögskolan i Stockholm

Övriga projektdeltagare:  Fateme Sohrabi, Handelshögskolan i Stockholm & Sara Rosengren, Handelshögskolan i Stockholm

Anslagsförvaltare: Handelshögskolan i Stockholm, SIR (Stiftelsen Stockholm School of Economics Institute for Research)

Beviljat anslag: 1 956 000kr

Löptid: 2023-01-01 to 2025-08-31


Sammanfattning av projektet: ​ 

Online retail has become an indispensable part of the global retail industry. Yet, delivering products online also has downsides as manufacturers and retailers must cope with an increased flow of returned products. Returned products reduce profit due to increased costs and have a negative environmental impact, incurring additional packaging and transportation. In summary, the negative financial and environmental impact of consumer returns, along with the steady growth of online retail, highlights a clear need for research that systematically contributes to a better understanding of consumer return behaviors.

The proposed research project sets out to provide empirically grounded insights that can help firms decrease return rates in online retailing. Extant research identifies the uncertainty of purchasing products online as one of the main drivers of consumer return behavior. Uncertainty of buying products online stems from the fact that consumers cannot touch the product and inspect its haptic qualities, there are limited means to evaluate the product visually, and any questions related to the product cannot be resolved by seeking advice from salespeople. As a result, consumers rely on other information sources, such as online reviews from other customers and product pictures. In two work packages (WP), we study the impact of information contained in online review text (i.e., other consumers’ descriptions of a product’s benefits and shortcomings) and product pictures (i.e., how the retailer or consumers depict the product to potential customers). Empirically, these projects will use product return data from two fashion retail companies that have agreed to collaborate on this project. The findings from the retailer data will be complemented with follow-up experiments to gain more in-depth insight into the cognitive processes that lead consumers to return products. Taken together, these work packages will form the foundation of Fateme Sohrabi’s dissertation thesis. One key outcome of this research project is, therefore, the development of a promising future retail researcher.

Our findings extend the academic literature on product returns and, specifically, on the influence of pre-purchase information on customers’ return behavior. In doing so, we will derive actionable recommendations for retailers that can help them optimize product returns.