’Tis the season for returning that sweater your mom gave you that didn’t fit. Make no mistake: A happy customer is a repeat customer. And as it turns out, in 2020, a lot of that happiness depends on the returns policy.
It’s that time of year…. family have finally left and everyone can get their returns process underway! But as the returns trend is at an all-new high, businesses need to be prepared, or be prepared to fail – and lose – the customer.
Rise of the Returns
With the value of returned online orders this holiday season alone is forecast to total as much as $41.6 billion (over $400 billion this last year), online merchants can’t afford not to build a robust returns policy. The United Parcel Service, meanwhile, has said it anticipates handling more than 1 million returned packages every day this holiday season, reaching a peak of 1.9 million items on Jan. 2, which would represent a 26% jump from the highest rate in 2019.
In a survey by ShipBob, 48% of customers said they returned an online purchase in the last year. 43% percent said apparel was the top category to return frequently. Another recent survey by leading monthly installment payment solution Splitit highlights the growing importance of consumer returns within the ecommerce industry. The Splitit survey revealed that a good return policy is not only key to overall customer experience, but directly affects web conversion and, ultimately, a retailer’s bottom line.
Keeping Up with the Customer
The retail industry should be taking the $41.6 billion seriously. Companies, more than ever, need to be prepared to handle a surge in returns of online orders. If they’re not, they risk running into packages getting tangled up along their supply chains, with customers waiting on refunds to hit their credit cards, and then returned merchandise going unsold.
- Put a link to your return policy in a prominent place on your home page and product pages. Don’t make customers hunt for it. Treat it as an integral aspect of your unique value proposition.
- Clearly communicate your return policy. Let customers know what products they can return, whether they get a full refund or store credit, how long they have to make a return, and if return shipping is free.
- Offer a flexible window for returning items. Thirty days is good, 60 is generous, and 90 is outstanding!
- Encourage further sales by offering free return shipping. And make it easy on customers by including a prepaid return shipping label in the package.
Your return policy isn’t there to make unhappy customers happy. It’s there to increase sales. Therefore your return policy should result in an increase in sales greater than the cost of returns, restocking, and other costs. The return policy is only successful when the sales force or marketing arm is fully trained to professionally sell your customer the right product or service. Then the return policy is used to increase sales.
Know Your Limits
If it doesn’t increase sales beyond the cost and energy of returns, there is no reason to do a return, even if your competitors would. Having a clear policy on your returns process is vital in order to run a profitable business. Whether it’s returning items in the original packaging or clearly stating a 30-day return policy, you need to set boundaries that ensure a fair deal for all.
Factors to decide when creating a return policy include whether you’ll give cash back versus store credit; the time you’ll allow for returns; how you’ll handle broken, damaged, or opened merchandise; and whether you’ll accept items without a store receipt. Finally, to prevent return fraud and ensure that returned items actually came from your store, it’s a good idea to code all purchased items.
The Future of Returns
Some retailers are proactively taking steps to try to ease the pains, and trash, that come with returns.
Now, you can return anything you’ve bought on Amazon at any one of Kohl’s more than 1,000 stores, and Kohl’s doles out coupons to people who use that service. Nordstrom is opening up pint-sized shops known as Nordstrom Local that don’t actually house any inventory but are meant for services like alterations and handing online returns.
A company called Happy Returns has drop-off locations across the country. And it has partnered with brands — many of which don’t have many of their own bricks-and-mortar stores — like shoemaker Rothy’s and apparel companies Everlane and Revolve, to accept their returns there.
Target and Walmart have heightened marketing around the fact that shoppers can make their online returns in stores, at kiosks that they’ve positioned at the front to make it more convenient for people who would rather mail the items in. Retailers are hoping to cut back on their own shipping expenses by utilizing these innovative processes.
While most returns (65%!) are as a result of the fault of the sellers, some customers could be mischievous. So as long as you deal with people, you are going to have requests for returns and refunds. By having a seamless procedure in place for the customer and policies to follow by the company, you will be able to balance a smooth customer experience while increasing your bottom line.