How Offering Returns Means Stickier Customers for Retailers

According to Statista, 87% of consumers in the U.S. look for free returns when they’re shopping online – and Shopify reports that 78% of consumers are less likely to shop with a retailer again after a bad return experience. 

Many (or even most) businesses see returns as a major expense and headache. But with customers basing buying decisions in large part on the return experience, shifting your mindset into a returns-as-opportunity attitude is critical to ecommerce success.

Here’s what 3PL leaders need to know to help retail partners turn their returns into a value-boosting strategy that results in stickier customers:

Easy returns stickier customers

The Case for Easier Returns

Improving the returns process doesn’t just save you and your retail customers time and money. It also has powerful customer loyalty benefits, boosting brand reputation, encouraging repeat purchases and increasing customer lifetime value. 

On the other hand, a confusing, complicated or time-consuming return process can turn a customer off – and many won’t come back.

According to the Shopify report, a retailer’s return policy is one of the factors influencing the decision to buy for 84% of consumers. And half of shoppers said the lack of a convenient return method caused them to abandon their purchase.

Creating a return process that’s focused on customer ease and convenience may seem counterintuitive. But if you want those customers to keep coming back (and reduce your cart abandonment rate), you need reduce as much friction as possible from your returns.

So how do you go about that?

Clearly Define Your Policy

If a customer can’t figure out what they need to do to initiate a return or how long after receiving the product they have to send it back, they may give up on the order altogether. Avoid this by creating a clear returns policy that includes:

  • Which products are eligible (or not eligible) for return
  • How long after purchase or receipt of items a customer has to return them
  • How to initiate returns (call, email, self-service returns on your website, etc.)
  • What condition the product must be in when returned
  • Return methods (shipping, buy online – return in store, etc.)
  • Who’s responsible for return shipping fees – you or the customer
  • What you offer for returns: cash refund, store credit, exchanges only, etc.

By clearly laying out these terms, your customer knows what to expect and feels more comfortable making their purchase.

Speed Up Your Returns Processing

A lot of the return experience for the customer lies in cutting down the time to process their return and issue them their refund, credit or exchange item. 

Just as with the initial order shipping time, return processing time plays a major role in a customer’s overall satisfaction with the brand. If it will take too long to get their return decision, they may give up – on both the return and the retailer. 

Again, this starts with clear policies. If you’re a 3PL processing returns for your retail customers, make sure their inspection process and disposition policy for returned items is clear and easy for your team to follow. You should also have a good returns management solution to integrate with your WMS and your client’s ecommerce platform to cut down time spent on communication between your team and the customer care team. 

Shortening the time spent processing returns isn’t just good for customers – it also speeds up restocking so you can get that product back on the shelf and off to another customer.

Offer Incentives for Exchanges Instead of Refunds

Many customers will reflexively request a refund for an unwanted purchase – but if you can convince them to accept an exchange or store credit, you can avoid losing that sale entirely. Even better, your customer has the opportunity to find a product that fits them better or that they like more, increasing customer loyalty. Instead of taking their refund and having to start the shopping process all over again, your customer can choose a more suitable item from your store – where they’re already familiar with browsing and checkout.

You don’t have to offer the moon here – the incentive can be as simple as free shipping or special discounts exclusively for exchanges. If you have a loyalty program, you can also offer extra points or rewards.

It may seem odd to think of returns as an opportunity instead of an expense. But shifting the way you think about your customer’s return experience can become a profit booster by creating stickier customers that keep coming back.

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