As we approach the holiday season, I believe it is a good time to discuss product return policies as it directly impacts customer buying decisions. A bad return experience will strongly influence the likelihood that customers will purchase from a competitor’s brand. Also, shoppers determine what stores to buy from based on their understanding return requirements UPFRONT. In my article, I present credible research and actions you can take to gain new customers and keep them loyal.
Consider The Facts: Returns & Customer Experience Impacts
- According to a UPS survey, “66% of shoppers review a retailer’s return policy BEFORE making a purchase. 15% abandon a cart when the return policy is unclear.”
- A study by Optoro reveals 90% of consumers say they’re less likely to buy from a retailer or brand if they have a poor experience with a return. 55% say they’ve outright chosen NOT TO BUY something because a return policy wasn’t flexible enough. “Whether it’s because of a lack of convenience that could get in the way a making a return, a lack of comfort with an expenditure that could become finalized without a proper trial period, or simply because of indecisiveness, over half of the consumers have a chance to pass over a product before even trying it simply because they are afraid they cannot return it on their terms.”
Returns and Business Costs
Although it can be expensive for companies when returns occur, making it a seamless and customer-centric process is an important business strategy. As Craig Adkins, VP at Zappos, explains: “Our best customers have the highest return rates, but they are also the ones that spend the most money with us and are our most profitable customers.”
Other companies are focussing on return experiences too, despite incremental costs to satisfy customers. For example, Walmart is making it simple for shoppers to return purchases by giving them faster access to shipping labels and return policies. Amazon created a partnership with Kohls, where Amazon returns are accepted at kiosks at Kohl’s stores.
5 Best Practices Retailers Can Do Right Now
1. Make It Easy To Find Return Policies On The Company Website
Do not require shoppers to go on a scavenger hunt to find information. If in-store returns are available, make that clear. Customers appreciate options. A recent study reveals that “87% of consumers prefer to return items directly to a physical store location. The convenience of being able to mail an item back is something that 49% of respondents have taken advantage of as well.”
2. Ensure Employees Are Well Trained
Customers expect consistent information. It is frustrating when a website articulates one thing, and a rep says something different. Mixed messages cause shopper confusion and distrust, which ultimately affects loyalty.
3. Offer Extended Return Deadlines Before and After Holidays
Extending return timelines can be a brand differentiator. Keep in mind there are new return trends. According to UPS, “the number of packages returned is starting to spike ahead of Christmas, not after it.” If you leverage your return policy as a competitive advantage, be sure to emphasize it in marketing communications.
4. Include a Pre-Paid Return Label
I highly recommend including a return label in the fulfillment box. Customers will appreciate the time saved by not having to search online, print a document, or call a rep for help.
5. Communicate With Customers About Their Returns
Take the extra step and notify customers when their package has been received at the warehouse. Provide details about the returned item, the refund amount, and how long it typically takes for credit to be applied. Also, include company contact information so that it’s easy to get in touch if customers have questions or concerns.
The Impact Of Positive Return Experiences Can’t Be Overstated
While my five basic guidelines are intuitive, it is surprising how many companies do not make it easy for customers to return unwanted products. They are ignoring the long term benefits as well as short term gains that come from positive reviews and referrals. Read more about NPS.
What’s your opinion? Which companies impress you, and which ones have return policies that don’t meet your expectations. Has this resulted in you buying from a competitor instead? I’m interested in hearing your views. Please join conversations on my Twitter and Instagram pages.
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All views expressed are Stacy’s alone and do not reflect the opinions of or imply the endorsement of employers or other organizations.