Between rapid technology evolution’s effect on sales and smaller businesses stuck hiding behind the shadows of e-commerce giants, retailers are grappling with a great deal of uncertainty. Even in the best of retail sales and revenue growth, product returns are expected to have accounted for 30 percent of the 2018 retail economy — an estimated $37 billion. So, what can you do to make sure your company is getting an earn instead of a return? Here are some helpful tips to follow:
Prioritize What You Make Your Money On — Your Product
Start reducing the likelihood of returns by improving quality and accuracy of product information. This is especially important for e-commerce and omnichannel retailers, which see nearly half their customers return products that don’t meet their expectations.
In the U.S., the National Retail Federation shows year-round returns are predicted to have hit the $400 billion mark. Understanding the reasons why consumers send products back will enable e-commerce businesses to focus on providing a better experience and reducing these occurrences. According to Forrester’s Customer Experience Index, brands remain mediocre when it comes to providing quality customer experiences. No brand has risen to the top of Forrester's rankings and continued to improve, a clear indication that U.S. brands are lacking a CX leader for the third straight year.
However, when customers feel valued, they're likely to remember their good experience, and prioritize interacting with that brand in the future. When e-commerce customers feel valued, 92 percent plan to stay with the brand, and 88 percent will increase their spending. This kind of loyalty is critical to a company's success. However, if your customer is returning an item as their first interaction with your business, you’re not building that loyalty from the start. In fact, it's starting down the wrong path for ongoing engagement.
The most important information a retailer can have isn’t necessarily about what the customer buys, but why he or she is making that purchase or return. Retailers can improve customer loyalty and repeat sales (instead of repeat returns) by learning the customer's thought process — e.g., how did they find your product and why did they purchase or return it? Consumer insight tells a retailer how to improve and better reach its customers in the long term.
That being said, shoppers still want to know exactly what they're purchasing, which means it's up to retailers to deliver a product that's consistent with their customer’s expectations. While many retailers are focused on offloading as many goods as possible, if products don’t meet shoppers’ expectations, they’ll be returned instantly anyway.
Keep Your Technology Up-to-Date
Another way to combat product returns is to have up-to-date technology systems in place. The more product knowledge you can store within your systems, the better equipped you will be to sell products.
When a shopper calls, make sure that your contact-center associates can easily find out everything they need to know about your products. This will enable them to relay important details to the caller. Dimensions? Fit experience? Companion product options? This kind of information is vital for improving the customer experience, reducing returns and upselling additional items. Product information management (PIM) solutions provide a centralized repository of product information, and help to ensure that your contact-center employees have exactly the same product details as your retail sales associates (and everyone else in the company) and customers. This is a critical piece of the puzzle.
According to ForeSee’s 2018 Retail Customer Experience Insights report, 25 percent of shoppers who start in-store also visit a digital channel during their purchase journey, while 35 percent that start in a digital channel go to a store during their purchase process. These statistics strongly support the idea that you must prioritize consistency across channels. PIM is a natural fit for omnichannel initiatives because it allows the use of one set of product data for manufacturing, supply chain, retail and digital. Consistencies build trust, and providing that consistent view of product information across all channels will help you continue to win higher levels of loyalty among your customers.
Remember That Technology Can Only Do So Much — Change Requires Buy-In at Every Level in the Company
Rallying everyone in the company around a singular PIM system to store everything will help streamline both the inputs and information sharing with shoppers, and help businesses work towards the end goal of creating earns instead of returns.
Retail has undergone a huge amount of change over the last decade. With no sign that shopping preferences or innovation will slow down, companies need to be prepared to succeed by having the right systems in place. Executives and front-line workers alike must invest in improving the customer experience for all shoppers before, during and after the sale. One clear way to work towards elevated customer experiences is by using a PIM system to create earns instead of returns with your customers, day in and day out.
Steve Gershik is chief marketing officer at inRiver, a product information management (PIM) solution.
Related story: Sizing Up Retail's Product Returns Problem
Steve Gershik is CMO at inRiver, a product information management (PIM) solution.
Steve Gershik leads the talented marketing team at inRiver. As a 20-year veteran of B2B marketing, Steve has worked with many growth-stage technology companies around the world.
Prior to joining inRiver, Steve ran his own marketing consulting firm, Koyne Marketing, was the co-founder and CMO of DemandCon, the demand generation conference, and lead marketing teams for Eloqua, now part of Oracle, and Sirius Decisions. He actively mentors young marketers interested in demand generation and customer marketing.
When not working, Steve can be found hiking in Yosemite, practicing his mixology skills, or speaking at events around the world like Campus Party, Brazil, Dreamforce, BMA, AMA, and DMA.