Why Focusing on Your Returns Process Has Never Been More Important
Thanks to the convenience, speed and overall ease of the modern day e-commerce landscape, product returns have become synonymous with the purchasing process. Consumers are able to buy multiple colors, sizes and variations of a certain product with the comfort of knowing they can take the ones they don't want back to the retailer with little to no risk of loss.
For years now, how a retailer conducts its returns process has had a direct impact on winning customers and keeping them loyal to their brand. In fact, ShipStation conducted a study on consumers’ attitudes when it comes to making returns at the end of 2019, and found that 95 percent agree that a poor returns experience would make them less likely to purchase from a brand again in the future. Furthermore, the study also found that 77 percent of consumers still prefer to handle returns in stores vs. online.
As you can imagine, these two charted trends have shifted drastically amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Since March, brick-and-mortar storefronts have been shuttered, e-commerce supply chains have been disrupted, and consumer shopping behaviors have shifted to one of two extremes: either buying everything in efforts to stockpile or buying nothing in efforts to save.
And with this surge in online purchasing come returns. Here are three ways retailers can revamp their returns processes to comply with safety guidelines while still keeping up with the needs of consumers.
Extend Returns Windows
While retailers will typically offer seven- to 30-day return windows, COVID-19 has significantly impacted the supply chain’s typical warehouse-to-front-door timeline. When shipments take two weeks-plus to arrive, customers need more time between when the order is placed and making the decision of whether to keep the item. In fact, new ShipStation data found that 58 percent of consumers now expect longer returns windows given the current economic conditions. Try to extend returns deadlines to two weeks after your brick-and-mortar storefront re-opens to ensure consumers have options amid uncertain times. This may make you lose a short-term gain, but will help you retain a lifelong customer.
Make Communication Crystal Clear
Hiccups in the returns process are inevitable with the current state of the supply chain, and what you say to your customers amid the process is imperative. In fact, our recent data found that 94 percent of consumers said they now expect retailers to have easy-to-find information on their website about shipping delays and impacts. Increased visibility into the supply chain promotes enhanced transparency to consumers, enabling them to stay in the loop with every step, from making the return to ultimately getting their money back. Though it’s harder than ever to keep track of shipments, make communication with consumers (whether good news or bad) a key priority, especially while storefronts are closed.
Create a Seamless Mail-Returns Process
As a consumer, you’ve probably attempted the mail-to-return process: if the retailer doesn’t offer pre-paid shipping and packaging, it can be a process with quite a bit of friction. In fact, ShipStation recently found that having a return label included in the box was a key factor for driving a repeat purchase (46 percent). Now, consumers no longer have the luxury to return in-store, or even create a shipping label at a post office, and many will still be hesitant to do so even when storefronts re-open. In addition to lengthened returns windows and on-demand communication, retailers must also offer pre-paid shipping labels and materials to kick-start the returns process, get merchandise back in market, and process refunds.
Retailers were just catching up to the returns needs of the modern-day, online-savvy consumer, but now they need to rethink their processes in response to recent industrywide disruptions. By extending returns windows, making communications crystal clear, and providing the materials needed for mailing returns, retailers can safely and effectively respond to growing consumer needs right now.
Krish Iyer is head of industry relations and strategic partnerships at ShipStation, a shipping software company.
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Krish is the vice president of strategic partners and industry relations for Auctane, parent brand of companies like ShipStation, ShippingEasy, ShipEngine and Stamps.com. A respected expert in ecommerce, Krish is often quoted in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Business Insider and the New York Times. An industry leader with over 20 years of experience, Krish brings perspectives from FedEx, Pitney Bowes, Neopost, and Auctane. In addition, Krish serves as the Vice President of the Package Shippers Association (PSA), which serves as the voice of the package shipping industry.