Returns. Nobody likes to deal with them. Most retailers can’t afford to lose money by taking merchandise back — especially if you can’t sell it again. But returns are a part of doing business — particularly if you have an e-commerce site with a complicated online checkout process.
With the onset of COVID-19, more transactions are being done online because of in-store limitations and lockdowns. In fact, from February to May 2020 in Canada, while total retail sales saw a decline of 17.9%, retail e-commerce sales nearly doubled (+99.3%) as businesses relied on online shoppers to keep them afloat.
While this pointed out the importance of a strong online presence, it also brought to the forefront the need for a seamless return shipping and a transparent return policy. In fact, at least 30% of all products ordered online are returned, whereas only 8.89% are returned in brick-and-mortar stores.
Whether it’s because the product is damaged, looked different online or the wrong size was ordered, retailers are faced with the task of creating an omnichannel strategy to help ensure a cohesive customer experience online/offline to help reduce returns. Here are five ways your online business can make that process simple and hassle-free.
Include your return policy clearly on your help page and at checkout [0:15]
It’s one thing to have a great return policy, but it doesn’t do you any good if customers can’t find that great return policy before they make a purchase. 96% of shoppers would shop with a retailer again based on an “easy” or “very easy” return experience, so clearly outline your return policy on your website so it can’t be missed by customers. Place links in easy-to-find locations, such as:
- Your website footer
- In your FAQs
- On your help page
- At checkout
- On each product page
- In their cart
- On your website chat window, if applicable
Will there still be frustrated customers who are unhappy with your return policy? Of course, as that can’t be completely avoided. But by being transparent and placing it throughout your site, you’re setting the right expectations before the purchase is made.
Provide multiple ways for customers to contact your company [0:19]
The last thing you want to do is to make people jump through hoops just to return a product. If a customer wants to contact you about making a return, include a variety of options like email, social media, your website, phone and live chat. Everyone communicates in different ways, and one channel might be more convenient for a customer than another. Something to keep in mind is that customer satisfaction ratings for live chat are often higher than all other support channels, likely because of the speed and response time. If this isn’t a feature on your site, it’s worth considering the implementation.
Along with providing multiple points of contact, use that contact to collect feedback via email or survey, asking the reason for an item return. Respond personally and address whatever the issue might be, whether it’s a defect with quality, design or packaging. Customers who feel they’re being heard are more likely to stay loyal to a brand. In addition, that feedback can be extremely useful to reduce future returns. Are there common reasons for returns? If you notice a pattern, you can make adjustments and prevent the issue from happening again in the future.
Ensure your customer knows how long the refund process will take [0:25]
Most customers want their refund the day before yesterday, so it’s critical that you clearly outline the complete return process, which will cut down on customer service reps dealing with the, “Where is my refund?” calls. Set out time restrictions for allowable refunds — such as 30 or 90 days from the sale date — to clear up any possible confusion.
What is the ideal time for a refund? While it will depend on your specific business, a study by the University of Texas-Dallas found that more leniency on time limits is associated with a reduction — not an increase — in returns and even more strongly correlated with an increase in purchases. Another way to increase revenue is by offering a discount on the customer’s next purchase to keep them satisfied and coming back in the future, as a 5% increase in customer retention can increase a company’s profitability by 75%.
Let your customer know if return shipping is free [0:35]
Free shipping on returns are becoming more prevalent. It’s no longer just a luxury — but an expectation. In fact, 62% of consumers are frustrated when asked to pay for return postage and packaging. Not only that, but a survey found that eight out of ten consumers would rather get free shipping than get their items faster, and 88% rate free return shipping as “important” or “very important” when making purchase decisions. By offering free return shipping to your customers, you’re reassuring them that if they change their mind about a product, you’re willing to help them quickly correct it.
Not only do customers want returns free of charge, but they want sustainable handling from their shipping partners. Having sustainable shipping options is important to consumers in today’s age. Over the next three to five years, 75% of North Americans say sustainability is important or very important. Having the right returns management process in place ultimately helps reduce environmental impact.
Work with a shipping company that lets you easily create and print return labels to include when you ship [0:38]
The goal is to make return shipping as easy as possible — and contactless in a COVID-19 world — as this shows you’re concerned about their overall experience and not just the sale. One way to do this is by supplying the return shipping label or giving customers the choice to print one for themselves from your website. You can also provide them with the option to print a label on location using a QR code generated by the shipper, so all the customer has to do is bring it into the store for drop off, and they can print the label there. There’s also the option to include not only a return shipping label, when available, but to also send them a link to print a return label (pre-paid or otherwise).
The bottom line on return shipping
While nobody likes dealing with returns, they’re an inevitable part of the retail experience — both in-store and online. The key to success is to remember that returns are a part of the shopping experience and buyer’s journey, and should be treated with great consideration. It’s also a good idea to learn why customers are returning their items to help reduce future returns. That way you not only provide a seamless returns management process, but you also help support the environment.
Also, you don’t want to forget about your customer’s experience with returns. Providing multiple ways to contact you or choosing a reliable delivery partner to help with a seamless return shipping process, will inspire brand loyalty and increase customer satisfaction — which can ultimately increase your bottom line.
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