17/08/2015

By Kelly Jones, Marketing Co-Ordinator, ReBOUND

Research shows that 74% of consumers check a retailer’s returns policy before buying, so it’s important to give this part of the delivery process the attention it deserves. Plenty of retailers, such as Boden, are already doing so, but many are lagging behind. These ten simple tips explain how you achieve a winning returns policy:

1) Follow the rule of 3.

A returns policy which is buried within an online shop isn’t going to give consumers confidence. The best retailers put delivery and returns links on the homepage, usually in the footer. A good rule of thumb is to ensure the returns policy can be found in three simple moves; a scroll, and 2 clicks. If consumers can’t land on a retailer’s homepage, scroll to the footer and be reading the policy within 2 clicks, they’ll think it’s been purposefully hidden.

2) Tone

The best returns policies are written in plain English (and translated on local language sites), with minimal use of legal jargon. Some retailers have taken this a step further. Boden’s honest and wittily phrased policy is a great example:

“(things like wear and tear are included, though garments that have been mauled by pets, drawn on by nephews, worn while decorating and so forth, don't qualify)…there will be a few rotten apples who might look on this as an opportunity to refresh their wardrobe for free each season (you know who you are)…If you are a pathological chancer and simply can't help yourself, we recommend trying it on with our competitors instead.”

3) Simple structure

Explaining a returns policy as a Q&A feature flows well. Consumers click on the policy looking for answers, so it makes sense to structure the policy into questions. Again, Boden do this really well on their site.

4) Generous return period

Increasingly, retailers are offering really generous return periods with 365 day policies. Granted, this approach comes with the risk that customers might ‘try it on’, but if a retailer is confident in the quality of its products and it’s appropriate for the market sector, then offering a longer return period can give customers that extra nudge to buy more.

This approach lets buyers decide once they’ve purchased, rather than hesitating in front of a computer.

5) Flexibility

Retailers should consider appealing to their customers’ holiday spirit by extending the returns policy around seasonal peaks. Not only does this please customers, but allowing a longer grace period for the return of unwanted Christmas presents, for example, will cause less pressure on the logistics system.

6) FREE Returns

77% of consumers believe that they shouldn’t have to pay for return shipping costs, so in the UK it’s now expected that retailers should offer at least one free return method as standard. A study conducted by TrueShip which compared data from two large online retailers reported a 320% sales increase when the retailers offered free returns.

There’s enough evidence around now to confidently say that retailers offering free returns will sell more.

7) Choice

Retailers not able to offer a free returns policy should look into giving customers more ways to return instead. Up to 80% of first time buyers never shop with a retailer again if they have to send back their first order. This can be reduced by offering flexible, convenient options for customers to return such as through local parcel shops, lockers or couriers as well as through postal networks. By taking steps to improve the returns experience for customers and offering more choice to suit their lifestyles, retailers can improve the likelihood of customer loyalty.

A good example is ASOS where customers are given seven options when returning items in the UK:

• Royal Mail - Return via a Post Office location.• Collect+ - Return via a Collect+ location.• Doddle - Return via a Doddle store location.• InPost - Return via an InPost parcel locker location.• Hermes - Return via a Hermes Parcel Shop location.• Hermes - Book a courier collection to collect Monday to Saturday.• My Returns - Book a courier collection to collect within 60 minutes.

8) Clarity

If a retailer’s online returns process isn’t easy and simple to understand it’s likely to be missing out on sales. MetaPack found that over one quarter of consumers found it difficult and frustrating to return items that they had bought online, with 51% stating the process as a whole was over-complicated. For example, items that arrive with excessive paperwork will frustrate customers as they try to sift through what’s what.

Those retailers using an online booking system to enable consumer returns need to make sure very clear and simple instructions are enclosed in the package with a url, or QR code directing the recipient to the site where they can access their shipping label.

9) Keeping customers up to date

Retailers should make it their policy to keep customers updated on the status of their return. Automated email updates telling them where their package is and when they will be refunded will demonstrate how smooth the returns process is. This is even more important if customers are overseas as there is greater risk their parcel might go astray.

Good communication is vital to round off the positive customer experience.

10) Quicker refunds

Even if a retailer fulfils points 1-9, the customer won’t be happy if they’re waiting for their money back for a long period of time. For cross-border returns, retailers should consider refunding as soon as they receive confirmation the item has arrived at the in-country address. As far as the consumer is concerned, they’ve done their bit by sending it back within the time period allowed, so speeding up the return to refund time is good practice.

Some retailers are leading the way in making the returns process convenient and customer-friendly. However, too many are lagging behind the curve, failing to give this important part of the delivery process the attention it deserves. Consumers continue to place increasing importance on the ease of returns and are becoming more demanding about the level of service they expect. At the same time they are now savvier than ever at identifying those companies that have an ill-conceived or poorly managed solution.

Treating the returns process as an unessential add-on is a false economy. In order to catch up with those leading the way, retailers need to afford it the same scrutiny as their customers do.