4 Ways Ecommerce Returns Management Can Improve Customer Experience
The rise of ecommerce returns shows no signs of slowing down, with the value of the channel in the UK set to increase 34.6% to £5,438M by 2022 according to GlobalData.
Steadily growing consumer confidence when it comes to purchasing items online and a projected 35% growth in online spend during the same period are two of the biggest driving factors behind this increase.
To keep up with this rapid pace, retailers are starting to treat the online shopping experience as a cycle, rather than a straight line with a clear beginning and end. Customers make a purchase, return the items they don’t want, then make another purchase again in the future if their experience was good, and the cycle repeats. In this circular chain the ecommerce returns management process can often be the weakest link, neglected by retailers who instead concentrate the majority of their efforts on initial purchases. This can be a major reason behind why customers choose not to continue their journey with a brand, with YouGov finding that 74% of people were likely to switch retailers due to a poor returns experience.
Shoppers want it to be as simple to return an item as it was to purchase it, and overlooking the importance of this gives potential buyers good reason to shop elsewhere instead.
Shifting the focus from primarily on sales, and instead looking at the entire buying journey as a whole, encourages retailers to ensure their customers have a consistently positive experience with the brand. This helps to turn shoppers into loyal consumers, driving repeat purchases and in turn increasing market share.
One of the biggest frustrations for customers when it comes to returning purchases is having to cover the cost of posting items back themselves. Consumers are increasingly treating their homes as their own personal changing rooms, ordering many items at once to try on and only keeping their favourites. Because of this behaviour, free returns have now become expected and retailers who do not offer this service risk buyers turning to competitors to make their purchases. To help absorb such costs, businesses should consider their options such as outsourcing and look to invest in a specialised reverse logistics solution that can provide high efficiency and value for money.
As well as cost, inconvenience is also another major annoyance for online shoppers. Making ecommerce returns complicated or hard work not only discourages customers from returning their unwanted items, but also makes them much less likely to return to make future purchases too. Limited return options, rules around how certain items can be returned and confusing returns forms to fill out all make this process far more complex for customers than it should be.
Convenience can mean different things to different people, and what works well for one customer may be a real hassle for the next. This is why it’s important that retailers offer a choice of ways to return items, so that each customer can choose the most convenient option for themselves. Offering options that make ecommerce returns almost effortless, such as courier collection from a chosen address or free drop off at a local supermarket whilst doing the weekly shop - like Asda’s ToYou service, can be a great selling point. Services such as this can be especially attractive for customers who find themselves too busy to queue at the Post Office, too far away from their nearest store, or for those who can’t wait around at home for a parcel to be collected.
Retailers shouldn’t overlook the small things either. Reusable packaging to post returns back in, pre-printed return address stickers and clear return instructions included within the parcel, can all help to make the process even more straightforward and make a big difference to the customer's overall experience.
Alongside convenience, the ecommerce returns management service also needs to be highly efficient to allow processing to be as quick as possible. Customers don’t like to be left waiting for their money back, or for a replacement to be sent out. This is especially true if an item has been ordered for a specific occasion or date, where even a small delay can cause huge inconvenience. And retailers agree with this sentiment, with 54.2% saying they wanted more effective returns processing and management.
To achieve this, it’s important for retailers to have an effective reverse logistics solution in place to manage returns right through from receipt to refunding and recirculation.
When it comes to returns forms, these should be as simple and streamlined as possible, requiring minimal input from the customer to complete.
Packaging slips and postage labels should be ready printed, or better still - available to fill in digitally, so that customers don’t need to fill out key information or print forms off themselves. This not only makes it more convenient and less time consuming for the customer, but also minimises the possibility of mistakes when writing out addresses or filling in information. If a return is accidentally delivered to the wrong address, or a product number is incorrectly entered, this can have a big impact on the speed of the returns process, and means extra work is needed in your reverse logistics solution to rectify the issue.
A quick turnaround time for returns also has direct benefits for businesses. The quicker items are processed, the quicker they can be put back into circulation. This speed and efficiency allows retailers to get the most out of their inventory, by getting returned items back into the hands of customers before they become old and discontinued stock or are discounted for sales.
When dealing with ecommerce returns which will be introduced back into the sales inventory, it’s important that there are rigorous quality control processes in place to check items as they arrive back into the returns centre. This allows unsatisfactory products to be picked up in the reverse logistics solution and dealt with, preventing them from being sent back out to a new customer. Whether this is a faulty item, a piece a customer has damaged or just something that needs freshening up, these could all create a disappointing experience for a customer if received as part of their order.
To ensure all products reach customers in perfect condition, the repackaging of returned items also needs to be considered.
Once processed, returns should be neatly packaged into identical packaging, complete with all stickers, labels and wrapping, so that it’s impossible for a customer to tell it apart from a brand new product.
The data collected from customers as part of the returns process can provide important insights into both products and those who are purchasing them. Analysing this data is a useful way to help refine and improve product offerings and in turn minimise future ecommerce returns.
One of the key ways this data can be used is in helping to ensure customers receive items that fit as they are expected to. Being unable to try items on before buying can be a big problem for consumers, and this is even more of an issue if sizing isn’t always consistent or accurate. By examining returns codes for common patterns, sizing issues become obvious - whether this is with a specific product or range, or even a discrepancy across a whole manufacturer. Similarly, drilling down into this data can also give retailers an indication that customers are not happy with the quality of items, or that pieces look different in person to the images presented online. These issues can then be dealt with accordingly, to avoid further disappointment for future customers.