More marketplace exposure means more sales and more returns. More complex, however, is offering the return policies required by the marketplaces. For example, Amazon now requires third-party sellers to accept “automatically authorized returns.” This means merchants must accept returns without having any direct contact with the customer, exactly when many businesses try to resolve customer issues to preclude returns. There are, however, ways to improve control of online returns in the face of changing customer expectations and marketplace practices. As disappointed gift recipients begin returning their unwanted merchandise, here are four strategies online retailers can use to tighten the returns process:
- Build Great Product Data
One of the biggest reasons for online returns is the dissonance between what the customer expects the product to be and what it actually is. Bridge this gap by creating product data that does justice to your products. Work on accurate product titles, detailed product descriptions, size guides, matching your product’s attributes to those of the channel you’re listing it and so on. Another awesome benefit of solid product data? Better discoverability – on search engines, marketplaces, you name it.
- Provide Return Instructions or a Return Label in Every Order
Shoppers don’t want to wait for return labels. In fact, about 62 percent of online shoppers want a return label included in the initial shipment, according to Endicia. Including a return, a label is not difficult, and many online sellers may find that the ability to do so is either built directly into the retailer’s e-commerce platform or is available via an extension to the e-commerce platform. A second option may be to offer shoppers a simple, self-service way to print a return label from your site. This self-service option does not require the customer to contact the shipper to get authorization or wait for an emailed label. According to the Endicia data, about 61 percent of shoppers will be happy with an easy way to print return or exchange labels.
- All Sales NOT Final
There aren’t many successful brick-and-mortar retailers that don’t accept returns. Online stores should be no different. You should stand behind your product, and if a customer doesn’t like a certain purchase – don’t make it difficult for them to return the item. The nature of the product (ie. intimate, clearance, damaged) obviously may determine whether you issue a full refund, partial, exchange, or perhaps none at all.
- Don’t hide your policy
Your customers should never have to go on a scavenger hunt to find information on your store. Keep this in broad daylight on your main menu. Or, if you’re comfortable, shout it from the rooftops by placing it in places like your carousel and banners throughout your store. But, the best place to put an e-commerce return policy is in your confirmation emails on purchases. Let those who have already bought know that you are dedicated to them liking their product and that if they don’t –– they can always return it. Being your customer’s biggest advocate is a great way to foster lifetime loyalty.
According to the NRF, returns are three times more prevalent for online retailers. 72% of shoppers return 10% or less of their purchases. Over the past few years, these shoppers have experienced only a slight increase in their satisfaction with the return process indicating that retailers have room for improvements. 65% of online shoppers were satisfied with their ability to process a return/exchange online in 2016, compared to only 62% in 2015.
So, what’s driving their lack of satisfaction with return policies? Among others, there are a few reasons. First, 30% of shoppers don’t want to pay for return shipping. They want to have options for where they return the product to. 68% of online returners have shipped items back to the retailer, 60% prefer to return items to a physical store.
If you don’t have an easy, clear strategy for returns you could be turning your customers off. An inconvenient returns policy deters 80% of shoppers. How you handle returns is a major part of the overall customer experience. If you have a poor customer experience, your eCommerce business will suffer.
Even though dealing with returns is tricky, it’s more than worth it to figure out a better process. Studies show that of the 60% of online shoppers that make at least one return or exchange per year, 95% will make another purchase if the return experience is positive. If you know your return process is lacking, make it a priority now to fix it. Your e-commerce return policy should represent your organization and provide customers with a positive experience. It should also evolve as your company grows, always looking for ways to make e-commerce returns as easy as possible. Since research tells us people like to touch things before they buy them, shoppers are increasingly ordering items online, trying them on, and sending back what they don’t like or what doesn’t fit.
The results are abnormally high return rates that cost e-commerce companies time and treasure. Online apparel providers appear most at risk. While you can’t do much in terms of offering touch online, you can stimulate other senses and cognitive functions to better predict the apparel consumers are likely to purchase and keep:
- Structure personal style surveys in ways that identify disconnects between consumer perceptions and realities
- Construct image-rich questionnaires that assist consumers in telling you what they believe even if they’re unable to verbalize their beliefs
- Personalize promotions away from customers who habitually return items
- Inject fun into the buying process with quizzes, humor, and gamification to emphasize sensory experiences beyond touch and improve conversions.
Whatever path you choose, a solid return policy, combined with above and beyond customer service, is not only a good customer service tool–it’s a money saver as well. Make sure yours is crafted to protect your legitimate customers, as well as your bottom line. Online sellers can use this as a chance to create better customer communication and loyalty, address how returns affect the bottom line and streamline logistics.