What do sites that sell customized products do with returned items anyway?

Seems you can customize just about any item you want on the web these days. And a number of these sites are popping-up throughout Europe, including Golden Hook for customized knitwear, L’Usine à Design for furniture, Design Your Own Dishes (coming soon) for dishes, Shoes of Prey for women’s footwear, La cerise sur le chapeau for hats …you get the picture.

Normally, customers can personalize items online and see what they look like before ordering. But while these sites are becoming more and more popular, there is still one big issue that remains:  what if customers are unsatisfied with their personalized product ? What should be done with returns and how do these types of companies minimize them?

BySydney is a French equivalent of American sensation Gemvara for customized jewelry. The company launched its site in September, has had several hundred orders and not one single return. So, what’s the secret?

Well, according to BySydney’s founder, Sydney Palti, sites that sell customized products can mimize returns by offering visuals that closely match the actual product. That way, the product delivered is more or less exactly the same as the product the customer saw on the site prior to purchasing. But this isn’t really that different from traditional e-commerce. Then again, it may be easier to get away with crappy visuals when selling certain products rather than others; for example, when it comes to jewelry, the product is rather simple and everyone already knows what gold and silver look like. But once you get into more exotic colors and shapes, having good quality visuals really becomes a neccesity.

French startup L’Usine à Design uses Adobe’s Scene7 for its real-time furniture customization platform, believing that it provides the most accurate images possible. Still, if clients are hesitant regardless, L’Usine à Design offers to send various matieral and color samples in the mail. However, once the purchase is made, clients only have 7 days to opt-out. L’Usine à Design does not offer returns or exhanges once the product is made – unless it’s faulty.

But it’s not just good quality images that make personalized products easier to sell but certain products themselves. For example, products where the form is simple and size is not really an issue. Think of products where the customer is already familiar with the model (like a specific pair of athletic shoes or a car) or where size and shape are not really that big of an issue (like scarves, socks, etc.). The risk of being unsatisfied with a purchase is naturally reduced. But still, this isn’t really different from traditional e-commerce sites. Than again, Shirtsmyway – a platform for custom-made mens dress shirts, has had fewer returns than one may expect: only 2-3% of all shirts sold within the last year were returned. The team claims that this is because of their very rigorous quality-control system.

Despite whatever efforts these companies may put into place to minimize returns, customers may still end-up returning customized items. Even if BySydney hasn’t had any returns to date, the company is still preparing for the possibility of returned custom-made jewelry. Obviously the company could stock all returned items and then wait for a customer to finally choose the right customization criteria in order to re-sell it. But rather than going the in-efficient route, the company has decided to open a physical boutique where all returned jewelry will be sold in a separate shop.

Even Gemvara had been considering the possibility of developing in-store kiosks to help minimize returns. But fortunately the company ditched the idea to focus all its attention online and has been doing rather well since !