In response to last month’s Hit or Miss: Returns, Paddy Earnshaw, chief customer officer of click-and-collect operator Doddle, looks at the top three areas of focus for retailers wanting to trump the competition
hit or miss online returns
1 Communication is king
The golden rule: make it easy for customers to understand your returns process and where to find the relevant information.
Research from logistics software company MetaPack shows that as many as 76% of consumers look at a retailer’s return policy before they complete an order, so it makes sense to speed up your conversion by making that information easier to find.
One of the retailers that received a very low score in Drapers’ Hit or Miss review was marked down for not offering returns to collection points, but it actually does. The problem is the information is so hard to find on this retailer’s website and not clearly explained, so I’m not surprised this was missed in the review. It begs the question though, if Drapers couldn’t find it, how will a customer?
Customers care about the progress of the return journey and want to know the item has made it back safely
Another point worthy of debate is the effectiveness of dispatch notes. Including a dispatch note in each parcel adds to the cost for the retailer, but getting all the relevant returns options and locations on a piece of A5 paper is nigh on impossible.
So what’s the point of dispatch notes? In a digital world, why we need to include paper for a transaction that takes place entirely online seems somewhat crazy, especially when the process can be paperless and give customers richer information online anyway. The growing appeal of returns portals we think is good for both consumer and retailer.
With the retailer receiving more information about the items being returned ahead of time, there is an opportunity to begin refund transactions earlier, resulting in happier customers. It does add a few more clicks, though.
Communicating the tracking of a customer’s return is another area where we have made changes to our own service at Doddle as a result of customer feedback. We made it much more visual, so it was clear where the parcel was and what its estimated arrival would be.
In all but a few rare cases a refund is not processed until the parcel is back at the retailer’s distribution centre. This duration between the return and refund is important because the customer doesn’t feel they have control over their purchase once it leaves their hands. Customers care about the progress of this journey and want to know the item has made it back safely.
Ensuring your delivery partners can help you to communicate with your customers on the progress of their return is critical, and getting it right will save your customer service team from a lot of pain.
2 Control your costs
The horse has undoubtedly bolted when it comes to free returns. There aren’t many retailers able to compete effectively in a multichannel environment today that don’t offer free returns. However, there are ways to make it more sustainable.
Prioritising the returns options that are the most cost effective by offering retailers a consolidation benefit gives consumers what they want – a free return – but also helps retailers manage the costs.
Ensuring the customer isn’t punished for making a return is essential for building loyalty
While returning items in store is offered as a free return by many retailers, there are often hidden disincentives. Store managers can be reluctant to accept online returns in store, as the refund comes off the store total, impacting on their ability to hit their targets.
Ensuring the customer experience is maintained throughout the journey and the customer isn’t punished for making a return is essential for building the loyalty that will ensure you recover the value of a return in multiple future sales.
3 Convenience equals choice
The central design to any returns strategy should be to build it around the customer. MetaPack research also shows 81% of consumers would shop more with a retailer who makes returns easier, so there is significant upside from getting it right.
There are ways to make the customer journey more convenient. Maybe they don’t have access to a printer to print a return label – a paperless process can circumvent that. Maybe they ripped off the packaging in a moment of child-like enthusiasm when their purchase arrived, making it impossible to return it in the original packaging – providing packaging can make customers’ lives easier and remove barriers to make a return faster. All the retailers we speak to are on a constant mission to reduce the length of the return cycle, so including steps in the process that slow a customer down are counter-intuitive.
Giving customers choice over where they return their items makes the process quicker
Giving customers choice over where they return their items also makes the process quicker. Let them choose what suits them best. That might be coming back into your own store – and there is research to indicate that customers make more purchases on returning items to store than they do collecting.
On the flipside, it may not be easy for a customer to pop into your store, so a range of drop-off points is important for expanding your coverage and helping customers to return items to you more quickly.
We have installed changing rooms in some of our stores, so customers can collect purchases, try them on, and return them there and then if they are unsuitable. That means in some cases the item was out of the distribution centre for less than 24 hours. After all, in a multichannel world, the opportunity for personalised offers shouldn’t just exist back in store.
The world of online retail continues to evolve, and customers’ expectations in terms of speed and convenience of service with it. Retailers who put customers front and centre of their operations will be those who retain their loyalty.