Returns by the numbers
Let’s have a show of hands. How many of you are returning gifts this holiday season? A recent USA Today article quotes UPS predicting 1.9 million returns on January 2, 2020, alone, up 26% from last year. As this year’s holiday shopping season is expected to set sales records, so too will returns, be they online or in-store. The National Retail Federation reported that 55% of shoppers surveyed intend to take back unwanted gifts within a month of receiving them. The National Retail Federation also estimates that 11% to 13% of all holiday purchases will be returned this holiday season
Shoppers have also become mindful of return policies when making their purchases, knowing that the odds are good that either they or their recipient, will want to return the items given. The UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper study found that 79% of those surveyed said free shipping on returns is important when selecting an online retailer and one of the top elements includes an easy-to-return online experience and a no-questions-asked policy. According to a Bold Commerce article, roughly 67% of shoppers say they normally check the return page before making a purchase. 96% of consumers in a survey by Narvar say an easy return process makes them more likely to shop with that retailer again.
Two primary strategies need to be considered with respect to returns. First, make efforts to avoid returns; second, make it imperative to not only clearly document your return policies but make them as frictionless as possible.
Help your customers make good buying decisions
Shoppers spend a great deal of time researching products before purchase. Retailers that provide significant and accurate product detail to inform consumers prior to purchase will benefit from fewer returns.
Detailed, accurate, yet concise product descriptions
Aside from product quality, nothing drives returns more than having your customers guess at what they’re buying. Don’t assume they know because they found the product online. Provide more than enough information to describe the product so they know exactly what they are getting.
Product photos and videos
Supplement product descriptions with high-resolution product images and videos.
Product ratings and reviews
Build a program to cultivate and curate legitimate product reviews. Shoppers are savvy enough to know when reviews have been paid for, and no reviews or a small number of reviews are more likely to drive the shopper to a competitor than to complete their purchase of your product.
Access to customer service prior to purchase
Provide a mechanism for consumers to ask questions and get answers about your products while they’re doing their research.
When appropriate, sizing and fit guidance
The more sensitive your product is to get a good fit, the more important sizing data is to complete the purchase. The more guessing that’s required to purchase your product the more likely it is that it will be returned.
Easy to find and understand return policy
Your returns policy should be easy to find from every product page, and easy to understand. Consumers are focused on buying and shouldn’t need a Rosetta Stone to know how you handle a return. Remember, the objective is to quickly remove any barriers to completing the transaction.
Nothing says “buy” more than “free returns”. Clearly, you will want to address strategies for avoiding returns prior to providing this option. Alternatively, nothing frustrates a consumer more than to have a legitimate reason for returning an item than to have to pay to return it.
Risk-free product trials
For cost-conscious consumers, offering product trials, or deferred billing is a legitimate strategy to drive the sale. This is a tried and true sales tactic, and whether you implement it as deferred billing or financing, it works.
Automate the steps of your returns process that don’t need Customer Service interaction. Requesting a return, receiving an RMA and label should be simple. This will also allow your Customer Service Agents to spend time enabling purchases or preventing returns rather than spending time on things that do not add value to your business.
The key outcome of a returns process is the elimination of your customer’s anxiety. “Don’t worry, we have you covered” is a tone that will keep your clients coming back.
Solicit and publish customer testimonials on returns experiences
Affirmation through social influence has become a mainstay in commerce. Community influences what we buy, how we buy, and where we buy from. It’s logical to believe that the community influences our opinions on a company’s return policy and customer service. A large number of Facebook Business Reviews center on consumer’s experiences dealing with customer service. Make no mistake, people read these reviews when contemplating doing business with you. Invest in cultivating a positive image through positive interactions.
If your business model allows, provide options for returning goods in person or via shipping. Also, consider extending your returns time window via “in-store credit” for those shoppers who wait to return outside of a traditional returns window. There are also a number of Returns Management service providers that can provide all aspects of services from White Glove pickup to managing your entire returns process.
Rewards and gratitude
Reward your customers for going through the returns process and incent them to buy through you again with coupons or discount codes. Not all returns are because there was something broken with the product. When the return IS for a product issue, apologize for their inconvenience, ask them how to improve, and give them a reason to come back.
Tutorials and videos
Lastly, walk your customers through the returns process step-by-step through online tutorials and instructional videos, even if you believe your process is straight forward and easy. People learn and comprehend differently, so make sure you have all the bases covered.
Leave them wanting more
Some industries are prone to returns more than others, but in general, returns will happen. Take action to better inform your customers before they purchase so they make the right decisions, eliminate any anxiety they may have over risk in making the purchase, and when a return is inevitable, make it easy for them to make the return and buy from you again.