Are Your Ecommerce Returns Creating Non-Returners?

Is your ecommerce returns process preventing customers from returning items – and thus not returning to shop with you again? The answer might be yes.

In an October 2020 YouGov survey of more than 1,350 consumers commissioned by Doddle, 76% of respondents said retailers are dropping the ball on ecommerce returns, and should do more to improve the experience.

One might think that the consumer perception of ecommerce returns would fall much lower in importance compared to other aspects of online shopping like delivery and payment. This is particularly true in these tumultuous times, when receiving items ordered online is a lifeline given store closures, social distancing and hygiene requirements.

However, the survey found that returns are almost identical in their significance to payment and delivery. Eighty-seven percent of respondents said returns are important or very important to their experience, roughly comparable to delivery (88%) and payment (86%). Clearly, an overwhelming majority of consumers feel strongly about the role of ecommerce returns and wish that the process of returning an unwanted item was better.

Returns Roadblocks

What do shoppers find off-putting about current returns practices? When asked which would make them reconsider shopping with an online retailer in the future, this is what they told us:

  • Paying for return shipping (65%)
  • Being charged a restocking fee (63%)
  • A refund process that took too long (46%)
  • Not being able to track a returned item and refund status (40%)
  • Having to find a location to return the item and take it there (39%)
  • No exchange option instead of a refund and re-ordering (34%)
  • Having to print return labels (23%)

Why are retailers putting up these obstacles to a good ecommerce returns experience, especially given how important it is to consumers? The short answer is cost. But consider: Is the long-term impact of a poor returns experience potentially more dangerous?

Again, the answer is probably yes. If you take the short-term view of minimizing costs by reducing your returns rates – often achieved by putting up the above friction roadblocks of inconvenience and complications – the long-run risk is losing their repeat business. A new customer who has a poor ecommerce returns experience will likely never come back.

Break Down the Barriers

There’s a better path to reduce returns-related costs you can take while improving customer retention. It’s more work than putting up barriers, but it’s important for your business beyond ecommerce returns. You need to proactively manage return rates through positive improvements to merchandising, site quality and product selection, instead of the reactive cost-to-consumer model.

What might that look like? For example, if a customer is returning an item and you capture the reason code (too small, wrong color, appeared differently than online, etc.), use that data to offer other items that might be of interest to drive an exchange or additional purchases.

You can show the customer alternative sizes, colors and/or accessories to match. Or you could also offer a discount code on future purchases. There are a variety of ways to use returns data to drive down overall costs beyond the initial return while increasing customer retention and loyalty. In addition, the insight you glean will help you improve how products are displayed on your site.

Technology can enable insights like these, empowering positive customer experiences while also removing barriers and frustrations. Returns provide the ability to drive repeat purchases, if done right. Make sure your returns processes support this, and don’t instead create non-returners.

Dan Nevin is Chief Revenue Officer, Global Retail for Doddle