How to Use Your Returns Policy to Get a Leg Up On Amazon

Amazon is an ecommerce powerhouse, but contrary to what you might think, it’s not just because they offer the easiest experience for customers. In fact, returning products purchased on Amazon requires a lot of extra steps—for example, you have to contact the retailer for authorization and often get a hold of a different box or envelope in order to send items back.

It actually seems like a hassle, doesn’t it?

You would think these return policies would turn frustrated buyers away, but in reality, the opposite is true. In Narvar’s recent consumer report, Making Returns a Competitive Advantage”, we found that 75 percent of shoppers were satisfied with their returns experience at Amazon, and 91 percent would shop with them again. So what gives? Why are shoppers so happy with their experiences if they have to do all that extra work to make a return?

In a word: transparency.

Being upfront and honest with your buyers can make all the difference when it comes to returns. 74 percent of Amazon shoppers we surveyed had to print a return label to make a return (vs. 41 percent who had to print the label with non-Amazon retailers), and 41% had to contact the retailer for return authorization (vs. 28 percent who had to contact non-Amazon retailers). But despite these time-consuming returns roadblocks, customers remain loyal because the retailer proactively communicates with them.

The key to Amazon’s customer retention is that they keep their buyers updated at every step of the way. 45 percent of Amazon shoppers were informed of when their refund would be processed, versus 25 percent of shoppers who purchased from other retail sites. And 34 percent of Amazon shoppers received updates about the status of their return, as opposed to the 15 percent of non-Amazon shoppers who were kept in the loop. The takeaway? Shoppers care more about being in the know than they do about being inconvenienced.

For online retailers who can offer both simplicity and transparency with returns, this presents a huge opportunity to win over—and keep—more customers.

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Amazon buyers went through more hassle, but were kept informed about the status of their return and refund.

Take on Goliath with more consistent communication.

It makes sense that when it comes to returns, you want your customer’s experience to be as easy and seamless as possible. And part of that—the oft-neglected part—is making sure they know what’s up at every stage of the journey.

What steps can retailers take to better communicate with buyers about their returns? Here are some tips to help you get a leg up on the competition:

  • Give them options: 38 percent of the consumers we surveyed would prefer to return unwanted items to a nearby store instead of shipping it back. Amazon might not be able to offer easy return-in-store options (although that may change with their recent acquisition of Whole Foods), but retailers with a brick-and-mortar presence most certainly can. Other shoppers might want to exchange an item instead of receiving a refund, and it’s a win-win if you can offer them a way to easily accomplish that online. By offering more flexibility with returns both online and offline, you can quite literally open up new doors to let consumers enjoy whichever returns experience they want.
  • Automate the process: One of the reasons Amazon’s customers don’t mind a clunky returns experience is because they can initiate it without ever having to actually talk to anyone. If you can replicate that self-serve returns experience online, your customers will appreciate it. In addition, if a customer purchased a non-refundable item, it’s always better to let them know before they go through the effort to send it back. By preemptively communicating with customers about which items are ineligible for returns—and including the reasons why you can’t take them back—you can avoid confused and angry customer calls down the line.
  • Show them the money: You might not be able to offer instant refunds for online returns, but it helps if you can show your customers their estimated refund amounts based on which items they’re shipping back and notify them when their refund is processed so they don’t have to keep checking. Remember: it’s not always about instant gratification—it’s about giving consumers access to the knowledge they want.
  • Provide more visibility: There’s a lot you can do to keep your customers up-to-date about the status of their return and refund. Start by offering easy-to-print labels with all necessary info pre-populated, and then send confirmation emails and give customers access to the return tracking info as the package makes it way back to you, just like you when you sent it in the first place. This leaves little room for confusion, and plenty of room for satisfaction.

By offering more transparency into your customer returns process across the board, you can set yourself up to deliver a more positive post-purchase experience, one that will please your customers beyond what can be achieved with ease and simplicity alone. When your customers can count on a seamless experience and feel like they can trust you to keep them updated at each step of the journey, they’ll have more incentive to come back and shop your brand time and time again.

Read more about what the current state of returns means for online retailers by downloading our latest ebook, The Essential Guide to Retail Returns.