Not long after all the gifts have been opened, the next great holiday tradition commences – the return. Historically, most retailers view returns as a plague on their business. It’s easy to see why, considering the trend of free returns and the 25% return rate in ecommerce. But the fact is that returners who have had a positive experience are likely to buy again from that retailer.

So what constitutes an easy return? How can you leverage the additional engagement with the returner, and how can you reduce the risk of a return in the first place?

Offer 100% hassle-free returns

The returns process must be simple, and very clearly spelled out on the site, to give shoppers complete confidence in their purchase. What constitutes an easy return? 65% of shoppers want to be able to print a label and ship the item back themselves.

According to the UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper report, 88% of shoppers review a return policy throughout the shopping experience, and 15% abandon their cart if the policy is unclear.

Subscription services like Stitch Fix have gone one better and included a pre-paid return bag with each shipment. ModCloth offers three return options:

  • Customer pays $5.99 shipping and ModCloth provides the label.
  • Free return shipping if product is being exchanged.
  • Free return shipping in exchange for store credit and a $5 credit for a shopper’s next in-store purchase (a novel way to leverage its physical stores).

Leverage the customer re-engagement 

A return represents a valuable opportunity to not just save the sale, but to impress your shopper and deepen your relationship with them.

To make a return, a consumer should have to identify themselves. In doing so, you should return the favor and show that you know and value them. For example, why not personalize the return shipping page to suggest alternatives to what they are returning? If you have to include a small inducement to make that more compelling, so be it.

Another idea is to follow up a return from a new customer with a letter. Yes, a snail mail letter — saying “Sorry this didn’t work out this time. Here’s a little something to convince you to let us try again.” As a consumer, wouldn’t you be pleasantly surprised by that? Wouldn’t that be enough to let you try that retailer again?

Multichannel retailers in particular need to seize this opportunity. The fact that they have stores gives them a huge advantage for returns. It saves the cost of shipping, creates an opportunity for an exchange rather than a return, and creates an upsell opportunity for additional merchandise.

You can also encourage store returns with preferential pricing for returning to stores, or free alterations on new items. The advantage of stores in the return process is one reason why more and more online pure-plays are opening physical stores.

Another opportunity with customer returns is the feedback on why they are returning. Bad fit? Bad quality? Off-trend? This is invaluable information for the retailer, as any insight helps them improve their business. To encourage feedback, retailers might consider offering a small incentive, or even making it a condition of printing a free return label. By capitalizing on any engagement with the customer, initially unsatisfied customers can be enticed to return for a second, more fulfilling retail experience.

Thwarting the return

Of course, retailers would prefer to have as low a return rate as possible. It helps, then, to understand the key reason for a return; once that is understood, retailers can take steps to mitigate.

In our experience, some of the key reasons for a return are:

  • Size/fit
  • Quality of product
  • Product not what customer expected
  • Arrived too late for customer’s needs
  • Product was an unwanted gift
  • Product looks different than it did online

Retailers can mitigate the risk of a return by providing detailed product pages that include high-quality product images with 360-degree views of the product, model shots, fabric description and care instructions, ratings and reviews, and social proof.

Further, retailers should provide size guides to ensure proper fit.
True Fit, a Commerce Cloud technology partner, is a data-driven personalization platform for footwear and apparel retailers that
uses rich connected data and machine learning to enable personal experiences for fashion retailers. Using a multitude of data points, it suggests the most likely size for a shopper, and gets smarter over time.

Retailers are well aware that many shoppers order several of the same items in various sizes, with the intention of keeping the one

that fits. Brooks Running has a novel way to steer shoppers toward buying only one item. After discovering that many shoppers were ordering several sizes of the same shoe (which adds to shipping and return costs, and impacts product availability) it implemented a pop-up message that appears when the shopper adds the items to their cart.

The message? “Not sure which size to get? Our expert customer service can help you figure out the one for you so you don’t have to return later.” The pop-up includes links to its phone number and a chat line.

This and much more is covered in our 2017 Guide to Holiday Readiness. Download it today!