Retailers Focus on Returns Excellence as Processing Time Shrinks

Ecommerce, ecommerce returns, Amazon, Zappos, Dell, Gap, Neiman Marcus, Nike, Apple, Nordstrom, Target, Walmart, Sephora, StellaService, customer experience, holiday returns, free returns, returns processingThe average time for processing returns of online purchases decreased from 10.6 days to 9.5 days between Q4 2013 and Q4 2014, according to StellaService, as more retailers are placing greater emphasis on that key aspect of the customer experience.

At the same time, StellaService found in a fall survey that 73% of consumers expected ecommerce returns to be processed in seven days or less; 39% wanted it done in three days or less.

“We see retailers not quite hitting that average (customer expectation), so there’s room for improvement,” said Ty McMahan, senior director of content for StellaService. “But it’s encouraging to see that the numbers for return times are falling.”

Companies atop StellaService’s list of delivering a top-notch returns experience included Amazon (returns processed in 2.1 days in 2014; 1.3 days in Q4); Wayfair (3 days in 2014; 3.4 days in Q4); HP (3.4 days in 2014; 4.7 days in Q4); and Apple (5 days in 2014; 4.9 days in Q4). Apple was a new addition to the list in 2014, the result of adding expedited return labels in late 2013.

“It seems counterintuitive to think about investing in ways to give money back to shoppers, but it is an important piece,” said McMahan. “We think the retail industry is really starting to pay attention to this.”

The main thing is making the entire returns process as seamless as possible, McMahan said, especially given the highly competitive nature of online retail. “Once they do that, they’re putting money back into the hands of customers, who talk to their friends about how easy and seamless the process was, and hopefully place they another order,” he said.

Other items of note from the StellaService report:

  • 60% of the 40 retailers surveyed always provided a prepaid return label, including those who charge for the label as well as those who do not include the label in the box itself.
  • 25% of the retailers always provide free returns, either via a label in the box or by requiring the customer to print it out. These companies included Apple, Dell, Gap, Neiman Marcus, Nike, Nordstrom, Sephora, Target, Walmart and Zappos.
  • Amazon, Wayfair and HP issue refunds before items arrive in the warehouse. In 2014 Amazon started offering instant refunds, giving customers 30 days to get the item back in the mail.
  • Dell improved from an average of 11.5 days per return in Q4 2013 to an average of 6.4 days in Q4 2014. In December, Dell issued two refunds before items arrived back at the warehouse.
  • JC Penney improved from an average of 13.4 days per return in Q4 2013 to 5.3 days in Q4 2014. It has been under 7 days for the past two quarters.
  • Staples improved from an average of 9.2 days per return in Q4 2013 to 6.2 days in Q4 2014.

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