With January in the rear-view mirror, retailers have made their way through what is perhaps the toughest part of the holiday season: returns. More than one in five (22%) of shoppers have returned a gift they received to an online retailer, according to Narvar.
Even though returns are complex and expensive for retailers to handle, they are a cost of doing business in today’s environment. In fact, retailers that are tempted to discourage returns with fees and restrictive rules run the risk of reducing initial sales. Consumers identified three major returns-related purchasing deterrents:
- Having to pay for return shipping (69%);
- Restocking fees (67%); and
- Finding it difficult to find the return or exchange policy (33%).
“If you don’t offer convenient returns options, or you don’t provide transparency, there is a silent majority of customers that won’t shop with you,” said Amit Sharma, CEO of Narvar in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “People think that having a nice product page or a competitive price is a sure shot way of getting customers to buy, but that’s only half of the story. Customers won’t shop with you if you don’t tell them details of how and where they can return the product, or the return window.”
While retailers have taken steps to improve returns processes, they still are not simple. More than half (54%) of respondents say they had to print a return label for their most recent return, and 32% say they needed to contact the retailer for return authorization. Additionally, 17% had to find a different box or envelope to return their item. Consumers consider gifts they’ve received more difficult to return than items they bought themselves: only 54% of gift returners said the process was “easy” or “very easy,” compared to 70% of all people who return products.
Consumers Seek Transparency About Return And Refund Status
Shoppers expect to be in continuous contact with retailers during the return process — 59% say they want notifications about the status of their refund, and 50% want notifications about the status of their return package.
“The process starts with communication and setting the right expectations,” Sharma said. “Once you buy, [it means] clearly stating your returns policies and whether there are fees associated with the returns. It’s not just about the returns — more importantly, when am I going to get my money back? You and I, as the consumer, care about the refund.”
Offer Multiple Return Options; Leverage Brick-And-Mortar Stores
Today’s shoppers want to cut out uncertainty within the returns process, all while having as many options as possible to return products. While 74% of shoppers mail their return, 40% of shoppers think it’s easier to return items to a store. In fact, 17% flat-out would not buy an item without the option to return it in-store. The two top reasons for preferring in-store returns are getting immediate credit (32% of shoppers) and not having to worry about a lost package (28%). Drop-off lockers and at-home pickup appeal to only 14% of shoppers.
“Honestly, it also depends on the product,” Sharma said. “If you have big items that require a little bit of packaging, having a scheduled pickup is a fine option that consumers would expect and appreciate. If you drop it off at my doorstep, we would like you to be able to pick it up as well. Instead of having a pre-printed label inside the box — often I may throw away the older packaging and the label — can I go online and get a new label? We don’t even have to go that far — retailers can simply generate a QR code. Shoppers don’t always have a printer at home so a QR code is more convenient.”
Apparel Retailers Improve Returns With Better Product Descriptions, Images
The apparel/department store sector traditionally has had the most problems when it comes to returns, especially since it can be difficult for a consumer to gauge how a product looks and feels before trying it on.
During the 2017 holiday season, apparel accounted for 43% of returns across categories studied, but that number dipped to 29% during holiday 2018. Brands may be improving at effectively communicating the color, size and fit of clothing, leading to fewer apparel returns.
“There are better product descriptions online and more investments in imagery, so that shoppers can understand the color, hue and other categories they may want to get a better look at,” Sharma said. “There are companies leveraging technologies that give customers a new way to look at sizing, instead of in a traditional 2, 4, 6 manner, and educate them upfront on the merchandise.”