As footfall on the high street continues to decline, the eCommerce industry continues to flourish with a 20% year on year growth, and this has only accelerated as recent Covid19 lockdowns have restricted people to their homes. But as online spending grows, so does one of retails biggest problems: returns. Whilst they’re a headache for retailers, returns are an important aspect of eCommerce strategy. In fact, 35% of shoppers deliberately over order to see items in person before deciding if they will keep them*. So, how can retailers overcome operational complications and give their customers a first-class returns experience? 

Check Your Returns Policy – Your Customers Do!

When businesses assess their customer experience, often they focus on the online sales journey and delivery, neglecting to execute and effective returns strategy. However, your returns policy and process is important to your customers. Not only have 42% of consumers returned something in the last six months *, but three quarters check a website’s returns policy before deciding whether to make a purchase. Consumers need confidence when buying online, due to the risk of buying something that they haven’t physically seen, touched or tried on. A good returns policy can give them that confidence. Leaving your customers unsure about the returns process will make them less likely to take that risk, and more likely to buy from a competitor. When selling internationally, that sense of threat is even more heightened, with longer waiting times and extra duties and taxes to pay. Returns policies are, therefore, even more, critical when it comes to international sales.

When assessing your returns policy, customers want a transparent and clear process. They want to know how long they have to return the item, what options they have, how much it will cost, whether they can exchange the item, how quickly they will get the refund, and how they will know if it’s been received by the retailer. Covering all this in your returns policy can help build the confidence of the customer and encourage them to buy.

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Getting It Right – What Do Customers Want from Returns?

Customers want a returns process with multiple options so that they can choose what is most convenient and fits around their lives. Failure to offer this has a direct impact on sales – a limited returns policy means they are less likely to purchase, and a bad experience means they may not buy again.

Tracking and communication are also key to that seamless experience. Customers say themselves that precise monitoring and receipt of return is an important aspect of the returns process. It gives them the assurance that their return is in transit, with the added bonus that retailers have less customer service enquiries to deal with.

One of the issues of returns when selling abroad is that different countries have their own expectations when buying online.  Some countries, such as Germany, have more of a returns culture which means that returns strategy is even more vital. Different countries also have preferences of how they would like to make a return, with 50% of consumers in France preferring a drop off location, and parcel lockers the most popular choice in China. Chinese consumers are also more likely to abandon a purchase due to a returns policy, along with Spanish customers. Understanding the different markets and tailoring your policy to them is important to getting global returns right. 

Returns: An Operational Headache

Even if you know what customers want, the reality of returns is that they create operational challenges and have a huge impact on the bottom line. In the UK, returns cost retailers a whopping £60bn a year. Sellers must find a way to balance the cost and operational impact of returns with the customer experience.

One of the operational issues for retailers is the lack of visibility or control. They often don’t know if a product will be returned, the condition it will be in when it will arrive, or the cost of delivery until it has already happened. This makes it impossible to plan and manage the process, leaving them playing catch up and causing delays. These delays mean that re-saleable goods take longer to get back into stock, and retailers lose the opportunity for sales.

When selling internationally, there is a further barrier of duties and taxes. Duties are paid when the product goes to the customer, but not for a return. However, retailers need the right documentation to prove that it already been paid or they risk charges or fines. All of this creates an operational nightmare, a drain on resources, and a big dent in the bottom line when stock becomes tied up and handling costs are high.

Smooth Returns; Return Customers

92% of shoppers who have received good returns experience make repeat purchases. ^ Today’s online shopper has high expectations of their returns policy. Retailers need to offer choice, flexibility, convenience, speed and visibility. That’s why GFS has launched a new returns platform, GFS Global Returns Pro. It enables retailers to offer fast returns for customers in under a minute, whilst also offering a simple and affordable option for retailers. With just a small monthly fee, retailers can access technology to help with customs documentation, have visibility over their returns process, and keep customers happy. By partnering with delivery and returns expert like GFS, the struggle of operational management can be alleviated at a low cost for small and large retailers alike.

* GFS/IMRG Consumer Home Delivery Report 2019/20

^ IMRG Returns Review 2020