As online sellers find themselves deluged with returns, it’s understandable that, because of the resultant logistics burden, the prevailing perception of the situation would trend toward the negative. The truth, however, is that returns are neither a necessary evil nor indication of customer dissatisfaction.
They are a critical element of a new online sales cycle that is seeing shoppers employing a “buy and try” approach to acquiring the products they want and expecting sellers to fully enable their behavior. And while there’s no changing shoppers, what sellers can do — now — is shape their supply chain to optimize the customer experience and maximize buyer satisfaction.
The shopper side of the returns process must be seamless and simple if this transaction is going to ensure a positive consumer experience, engender trust and grow the relationship between seller and consumer. In order to leverage this opportunity, sellers must recognize, and effectively respond to, the preferences and perceptions that drive consumer behavior when it comes to returning purchases.
Inmar recently surveyed shoppers about their online shopping and purchase return behaviors and the evidence speaking to the need for a customer-centric return policy is unmistakable. Close to three-quarters (74%) of shoppers reported that they check the seller’s returns policy before making an online purchase. At the same time, 72% say their experience returning an item makes a difference in whether they buy again from that seller.
New Purchase Practices. Increasing Returns.
As e-Commerce sales grow, so do returns. A full two-thirds of the shoppers surveyed by Inmar reported making at least one online purchase per month last year; just under 43% said they made “multiple” purchases online each month. As a consequence, almost 60% of these shoppers made a return during the 12 months leading up to the survey. Among those shoppers who made a return, roughly 61% made more than one return and close to 20% made five or more returns over the course of last year.
However, it’s not simply that shoppers are making more purchases that are driving increased returns volume. Rather, much of the returns growth is due to shoppers purchasing more than one of the same or similar items with the intention of keeping one and returning the others. Close to 75% of shoppers surveyed admitted to taking this approach in order to ensure they got the correct fit, color, etc.
Changing Preferences. Greater Opportunities.
When it comes to making returns, most shoppers want to do so in-store; overall, 77% of surveyed shoppers cited this as their preference. This sentiment was expressed consistently across genders and all age groups with very large majorities among Gen Xers (83%) and Baby Boomers (81%). The proportion of Millennials preferring to return in-store was lower, but still relatively high, at 68%.
Besides meeting consumer demand, enabling in-store returns of online purchases drives store traffic and presents sellers with the opportunity to immediately recapture shoppers’ initial expenditures. As many as 30% of Inmar survey participants reported they “usually” or “always” stay in the store and shop with their refund money. Another 51% said they “sometimes” stay and shop, and 26% say they spend more than the cost of the return when they shop immediately after returning an item in-store!
As to why shoppers prefer to make returns in-store, convenience and immediacy quickly surface as the top drivers. As many as 59% of shoppers surveyed said returning in-store was more convenient, while 50% said they made the trip to get their refund or store credit immediately. At the same time, 46% of surveyed shoppers offered that they preferred to return in-store because it was a “hassle” to pack unwanted products for return shipping.
Immediate Demands. Effective Responses.
To ensure the best outcomes for all parties, sellers must provide omnichannel return options that fit their business model while encouraging shoppers to return purchases how and where it’s best for the balance sheet. And targeted consumer promotions can do just that.
Among the shoppers surveyed by Inmar, more than two-thirds (68%) of those who bought online from a retailer with a store nearby said they would be willing to ship the return in exchange for a coupon or discount on a future purchase. An equally healthy proportion of survey participants (72%) agreed they’d be willing to take an online purchase to a nearby store in exchange for a coupon or discount on a future purchase.
Shoppers aren’t making it easy on sellers when it comes to returns. But sellers who recognize that omnichannel returns are no longer optional, and take advantage of the influential tools available, can make things much, much easier on themselves.
Rob Zomok brings tremendous global supply chain leadership experience to Inmar. During his 25-year career, he has gained a reputation for making significant domestic and international supply chain operational improvements for companies such as Hershey, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and Meguiar’s. He also served as Lead Faculty Area Chair for the University of Phoenix School of Business, where he taught graduate-level and undergraduate-level courses in management theory, strategic planning, economics and organizational behavior. Zomok was Senior Director of Client Solutions and Analytics, and Director of Operations for the Northeast Region for Inmar.