How Retailers Can Flip Ecommerce Returns into a Competitive Advantage

ecommerce returns running boxes feature

Nobody likes ecommerce returns, but retailers and consumers feel the pain very differently. That disparity between customer expectations and retailer perceptions creates a significant and costly disconnect.

For consumers, a return means the purchase didn’t work, didn’t fit, wasn’t the right color or somehow didn’t meet expectations. Besides the disappointment, returning the purchase is inconvenient. They may have to haggle with the retailer, repackage the item, print a label and bring it to a store, post office or drop-off point — often chosen for the seller’s convenience, not theirs.  And it’s not fun for you as a retailer, either. If you’re lucky you can restock it, but often it’s out of season, used, damaged or worth less than the restocking cost.

Despite the bottom-line hit, many retailers see ecommerce returns as a cost of doing business. And they might not even recognize how a cumbersome process influences the customer experience and long-term loyalty.

Amid a growing reliance on ecommerce post-pandemic and the accompanying increase in ecommerce returns, retailers that don’t analyze this impact won’t stand out from the competition and solidify customer loyalty. They need to see returns as part of the customer journey. Although they must balance costs with customer satisfaction, it is possible to do both. Here are six steps they can take:

Make the Process More Convenient

Consumers want the ecommerce returns process to be easy, and retailers can improve it with simple changes. For example, one popular option is to include a return label with the shipment. A recent Doddle survey found that 33% of respondents didn’t want to have to print out a return label.

Ensure the Original Shipping Material Can Be Used

This ensures the item will get back to you quicker and also helps drive sustainability, which is increasingly attractive to consumers.

Make it Easy to Navigate the Process on Any Device

How this happens can be a very different experience across retailers’ sites depending upon the device used. It’s often much easier to navigate through the ecommerce returns process on desktop vs. mobile, and in these days of growing mobile commerce that shouldn’t be the case. You as a retailer need to address this disparity if it exists.

Give Customers More Choices

An omnichannel approach to ecommerce returns allows customers to ship the item back or drop it off at a store – even if it’s a different brand. Doddle’s survey found that 47% wanted the option to return online purchases in store, and 45% wanted convenient return locations, whether it’s the store they purchased from or somewhere else along their errand path.

Consider Free Returns and Other Options

Free returns are ideal, but not all retailers have the means to support it. You might consider other ways to make the process more convenient, such as providing instant refunds once the product hits its first scan. Other options include increasing the refund window but transparently charging return shipping, or providing a refund but allowing the customer to keep the product if it’s a small-ticket item.

Provide Better Visibility and Communication

Digitals tools are necessary for streamlining the returns process. A surprising number of retailers have an analog returns process or, worse, a blind one. The customer doesn’t know the refund status, and the retailer doesn’t know why the product is being returned. It’s a serious lack of visibility and control.

Nearly a third of respondents to the Doddle survey (30%) said not being able to track a returned item would make them reconsider shopping with a retailer in the future. If you can’t digitize the process and understand everything about the return – the customer, the reason code, where it’s being returned from, when it will be returned, what stage it’s at, etc. – you can’t do anything to make it better.

Retailers that see ecommerce returns as a necessary evil and an inconvenient cost of doing business are missing an enormous opportunity to understand the full effect the process has on the customer journey and future customer acquisition. As consumers increasingly rely on ecommerce, take definitive steps to stand out from the competition with an efficient returns process that creates financial efficiency and a better customer experience.

Dan Nevin is the Chief Revenue Officer of Doddle

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