Customers are 3X more likely to abandon a retailer after a bad return, but 95% of online shoppers are willing to purchase from a retailer again following a good return. How can retailers capture a customer’s loyalty with a great return process? It starts before a customer clicks the “buy” button, and continues with clear communication all the way through the refund.
When auditing your company’s returns strategy, consider these six customer touchpoints from pre-purchase transparency to post-purchase experience.
(And if you’re looking for advice on returns software, check out our guide: The Ultimate Guide to Retail Returns Software.)
Apparel and footwear are among the most-frequently returned ecommerce items, with shoppers citing fit or quality issues in 79% of online fashion returns. Providing shoppers with more information can minimize exchanges and bracketing.
(Almost 60% of shoppers will purchase multiple sizes or colors of the same item online with the intention of returning the items they don’t like, and bracketing accounts for almost 15% of returned online purchases.)
Data suggests that detailed product descriptions, (including models’ sizes and measurements in apparel), and more customer reviews that include customer photos will reduce returns. When asked what information would prevent returns:
More than 60% of customers will review a retailer’s return policy before making a purchase, so retailers should make it easy to find their policy on their website.
Many retailers include shipping and returns information as a tab on their product pages, giving customers all the information they need to make an informed decision without navigating away from the item they are considering. A complete return policy is usually included in the footer of ecommerce websites, as well.
If an item is a final sale, that information should be prominently displayed on the product page to avoid confusion.
Every post-purchase communication is an opportunity to educate and reassure the customer about the transaction. Starting with the order confirmation, retailers should provide customers with a status update link, and a link to initiate a return.
Adding a “start a return” link to post-purchase emails makes the process easier for customers, eliminating the need to search multiple emails to locate the relevant information.
For orders that are delayed, proactive email communication can reduce a retailer’s WISMO calls, and give the customer an opportunity to cancel the order. Offering flexibility to cancel purchases that may be time sensitive spares the customer the effort of returning the item, saves the retailer money on shipping and returns costs, and reduces carbon emissions.
Customers want more options when it comes to making returns, including home pickup, digital returns, and in-store returns. While many retailers lack the market saturation to be able to offer all of those options, Narvar’s return services give retailers of every size the opportunity to tap into an extensive returns network. That includes boxless or label-free returns at more than 200,000 collection points and faster returns through next-day home pickup.
For customers that want to stick to returns by mail, retailers need to offer a quick and easy way to generate a return label, whether through a return link in post-purchase emails or through the website.
Customers love longer return windows and free return shipping, but those policies aren’t sustainable for every business. Retailers have to balance customers’ expectations with financial feasibility. VIP programs and perks can offer a middle ground.
Extended return periods and free return shipping for VIP customers incentivizes loyalty through shopping minimums, store-branded credit cards, and mailing list registration. Free return shipping is the most popular VIP benefit, followed by instant refunds, and extended or unlimited return windows.
Beyond VIP programs, retailers can use perks to encourage faster returns. For example, a retailer could offer free shipping on returns made within 10 days, or charge a small return shipping fee for returns initiated between 11 and 30 days of purchase.
Customers typically prefer refunds credited back to the original payment method, but many retailers are now enticing customers to choose store credit, either by offering an “instant refund” or adding additional value to shoppers who choose refunds in the form of credit. A $100 credit card refund, for example, could become $110 in store credit.
Regardless of how a return is refunded, customers expect a refund or exchange to be processed within 30 days, and they want retailers to keep them in the loop regarding their return status.
To minimize WISMR inquiries, the best practice is to notify customers by text or email when their return is received by the carrier, when it reaches the warehouse, and when the refund is issued.
Easy returns are a key ingredient for success in ecommerce. Two-thirds of ecommerce customers choose online shopping because it’s convenient. Customers returned 20.8% of online purchases in 2021. The cross-section of shoppers who demand a smooth return process cannot be ignored.
As you review your company’s policies, are there areas that need work? Regardless of a retailer’s operational infrastructure, strategic partnerships now give every retailer the chance to offer best-in-class services like multi-channel returns, instant refunds, and return tracking. Mid-size retailers may not be able to compete with big box stores on price, but, thanks to a growing network of returns services, they can compete on convenience.
Currently the Senior Content Marketing Manager at Narvar, helping 1300+ of the world's most-admired brands—including Sephora, Levi's, and L'Oréal—take their post-purchase experiences to new heights. Born and raised in San Francisco, but I've lived all over the world. Previous residences include Seattle, Denver, Santa Monica, Kinsale (Ireland), and Wellington (New Zealand). Writer by trade, football player by passion, and tall by genetic lottery.