Industry Roundtable: How to Improve Your Returns Process

You spend so much time and effort ensuring that your purchase process is seamless for customers. But what about post-purchase? The customer journey doesn’t end after they submit their credit card information. Today, consumers care a lot about the post-purchase process and want as much information as possible.

In a recent Brightpearl survey, 97% of consumers agreed that post-purchase information is important to them, but only 22% of merchants rate their post-sales process as the best it could be. Some key elements of the post-purchase process really turn off consumers, one of which is returns. About 44% of consumers told us that they would stop using a brand because of an unsatisfactory returns policy.

So how can you improve your returns policy and processes in 2022? We recently talked to a few of our partners to find out their best advice on improving the returns process. Here’s what they had to say…

What are some ‘perks’ retailers can offer if free returns aren’t an option?

“If it can’t be free, it better be fast. Ensure consumers don’t receive a product late, only to discover it needs returning, and that returns aren’t accepted or that returns will cost them. Keep return information clear and upfront on product detail pages, so customers know what can’t be returned. Also, highlight any local pickup options or returns. Google now allows Shopify and WooCommerce businesses to showcase existing deals across Google Surfaces and directly sync existing and new promos to their Product Listing Ads. Don’t push product deals that don’t have free returns if possible and focus on local inventory ads.” – Asya Butner, Senior Solutions Strategist at Trellis

“The most common perks we encounter are store credit, gift cards, and exchanges. Any perks offered in place of free returns should be designed for maximum customer satisfaction. You don’t want customers to have a negative perception of your store just because you cannot process their returns.” – Chris Powers, eCommerce Content Marketing Specialist at Codal

What’s your opinion on ‘free’ returns? Have your merchants seen success or pain with this strategy?

“Free returns are a game-changer. I, personally, am much more likely to buy online, especially from a brand I don’t know if they will let me return for free. We have clients who offer that, and their conversions are often much higher than those with stricter policies.” – Jess Grossman, Founder & CEO of In Social

“With return rates that range from 8-30% for consumer branded products today, businesses must embrace and manage returns. In our experience, ‘free returns’ refers to prepaid return shipping and no restocking charges. We’ve found that consumers appear to be willing to pay for the return shipping on an order without significant push-back, but not restocking charges. We advise businesses to start with that policy and flex only when consumers raise the issue. This will deliver potentially significant cost savings to the business. This strategy works best for branded product businesses and less so for marketplace solutions.” – John Tegner, President at Menklab

What are some potential ways to prevent an influx of returns?

“Check your data. Are you capturing your return reasons? Review what’s happening and what the most frequent reasons are, and target those first. If sizing is an issue, consider implementing a tool to enhance the shopping experience with personalization. Building a super detailed size guide to work out the best fit for apparel will mean the customer is much more likely to receive something they’re happy with. Avoiding or reducing returns, especially during holiday periods where there is likely an increase in order volume, is paramount to ensuring a good customer experience.” – Leighanne Phillips, Head of Commercial at Full Fat Commerce

“There are several ways you can address this. Personally, if I’m allowed to use a product for some extended amount of time (60 days) and have the option to return it no matter what (used, tagless, etc), I’m much more likely to keep the product even if I otherwise would have returned it if I was being forced to decide within say, 7-10 days.” – Ford Crane, Strategic Partnerships Manager at Klevu

What are ways to minimize friction across the entire returns process?

“Strong communication and automation can minimize friction during the return process. Square’s Future of Retail report found that 43% of customers would avoid a business that makes returns inconvenient. Customers may have questions about returns, like how to start the process, how to package return items, how to ship, and when refunds will be initiated. Clearly communicate each step through the FAQ on your site and through email or SMS. Enable a hands-off method to start the return process, such as emailing printable shipping labels for online purchases. This can improve the customer experience and decrease the burden on your customer service teams.” – Brandon Levey, General Manager of Inventory, Fulfillment, and Merchandising at Square

“Make it easy for the customer to return their order. It has become a standard to let customers initiate a return and generate carrier documents themselves from the website. If a refund or credit requires that items be inspected, ensure that there are return receipt procedures and processes so that customers receive their credit promptly and that customer service is empowered to resolve conflicts efficiently. Depending on the processes and systems involved, investment in some integrations can streamline a lot of this.” – Hai-Long Ngyuen, Director of Engineering and Delivery at Diff

The bottom line: easier returns, happier customers

Returns are inevitable, and having a concise and convenient returns policy is an increasingly influential factor in determining a retailer’s success. The Brightpearl survey we mentioned revealed that 96% of consumers consider the ability to return an item to be important when deciding whether to shop with a brand, and 42% of consumers chose free returns as one of the top three options most important to them when purchasing from a brand.
You must invest in solutions that overcome return challenges and ensure processes are adaptable and flexible to offer an experience that matches the consumer’s expectations.

Brightpearl and our amazing partner network are by your side to support your e-commerce returns strategy efforts. Explore our partner network here.