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Free Returns Might Not Cut It Anymore | Opinion

Holiday shopping is in full swing, and we know this because nearly 1 in 5 (19%) consumers are shopping earlier to avoid shipping delays this season. Because of this, it’s predicted that the “holiday hangover” season of returns will begin earlier than expected, which means it’s crucial that retailers begin to think about what their return strategies look like and how these strategies can boost customer relationships into the new year.

Returns Are Inevitable

Every minute $190,000 of goods are returned in the US. While retailers will try their best to make sure the purchasing experience is customer-centric, sometimes a shoe doesn’t fit properly, or a customer simply changes their mind once the item arrives. These factors are  out of the retailer’s control. Yet, what retailers can control is the returns experience they provide. A good returns policy can turn unwanted purchases into brand loyalty. On the flip side, when that experience is reversed, it may deter a customer from becoming a repeat shopper.

The question now becomes: What can retailers do to create the best possible returns experience for their customers? Returns are a major pain points for consumers, with nearly half (45%) say they would rather return an item directly to the store to avoid dealing with return shipping. This means that incentives like free returns aren’t cutting it anymore. Customers are frustrated with the process, and because it’s the last touchpoint they have with a brand, its crucial brands provide a seamless and positive experience from start to finish.

Transforming this experience  starts the minute a package is delivered. A recent data pull confirmed that customers are averaging 148% open rates for shipping updates, which means they’re actively engaging with that “package delivered” email. Employing an operations experience management platform will allow brands to effectively communicate these updates, while also leveraging them to share important returns information. This includes returns policies, how-to return items and information around what they should expect during the returns process.

Make Returns as Easy as the Purchase

26% of brands require customers to email them to start a return. As simple as that may sound, that added step can be frustrating and is a less effective way to begin the process. Instead, lay out the process in your delivery experience and show the customer  exactly what they need to do to make a return happen. It could be as simple as letting them know they have 30 days to return an item upon receipt, linking to the return portal to request a returns label or even instructing them on how to use the pre-paid label that came with their package. Don’t riddle the returns process with added barriers for the customer. Instead make it as easy as possible.

It’s Out of The Customer’s Hands. What Now?

Once a return has been packaged up and, on the way, back to your warehouse, the experience isn’t over. From there, the customer typically wants to know two key pieces of information from the retailer: when the package has arrived at the warehouse for processing, and when they should expect to see their refund (or exchange). This last mile is just as important as getting a customer to make an initial purchase. Overcommunicating in these two areas will go a long way to creating trust and a lasting relationship, which can shift the perception of the brand, especially for first-time shoppers.

About the author

Tobias Buxhoidt
Tobias Buxhoidt
Tobias Buxhoidt is the CEO and Founder of parcelLab, where he leads global business strategy and is focused on bringing parcelLab and Operations Experience Management to brands across global markets. In 2015 he co-founded parcelLab to help brands build engaging customer experiences around complex operational processes and data.


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