The holiday shopping season often comes down to three things: lots of purchases, lots of shipping and, of course, returns. Before the season starts and things get things get hectic, retailers may want to take the time to revamp their in-store and online return policies in ways that will not only reinforce brand loyalty but also inspire customers to spend more.
The 2016 UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper™ study found that consumers rated an easy returns process just as high on their wish list as offers for free shipping. Follow these tips from Jim Brill, UPS's reverse logistics marketing manager, to better manage your returns and keep customers happy.
Fifty-one percent of consumers surveyed in the Pulse study said a hassle-free policy was a key element of an optimal returns experience, ranking second after free returns shipping.
According to Brill, Macy's is a leading retailer that embraces a positive consumer approach. The department store chain provides an easy-to-understand returns policy through prominent links placed on its website's home page, customer service page and checkout page.
"Return policies that are hard to find or say ‘We will only do this and we won't accept that' are not helpful," says Brill. "Instead, use a customer-centric approach that makes it easy for people to move beyond the distressing experience of buying something that turns out wrong so they can get back to a positive shopping experience."
The consumer is in the driver seat in many respects and a key point for merchants is to take away risk the customer feels in buying the product from your company. "Returns is a key piece to online purchasing," Brill says.
Smaller retailers can follow suit by offering their customers easy access to a return label and how to arrange pickups online or find a UPS drop-off location.
The UPS study shows that when customers are allowed to make web-purchase returns to a physical store, more than 70 percent have made an additional purchase. This will help build customer retention rates and further cement brand loyalty. It's also a critical moment to address any service or product issues with your customer who is bringing in a return. This information is hard to get from customers, especially when they ship back their returns. Questions to ask:
Keep it simple and short but use this moment for service recovery and as an opportunity to grow your business – from returns!
For merchants with a retail presence, part of creating a seamless returns process includes a smooth in-store process. A best practice is to position your returns counter near the front of the store so customer service is easy to find and convenient for dropping off the return merchandise.
A great example is The Home Depot, which posts a greeter at the front of the store and the service/returns desk is right inside the door for their general store format. This helps the customer and the store efficiently handle returns. Another key study finding is for merchants to make a timely refund, which was important to the returns experience for 42 percent of consumers surveyed.
"The returns process at Home Depot is streamlined – they don't ask 30 questions about the return," says Brill. "The customer walks away happy and heads over to the hardware aisle to pick up something new."
When holiday tensions are running high, avoid the possibility for holiday mix-ups through clear returns policy language and an easy to understand return process, whether online or in the store. Take advantage of ways to eliminate returns altogether. Get ahead of the problem by featuring how-to instructions or videos on your website or YouTube page, especially when assembly is required.
Some tips about your returns policy include understandable wording that is concise and free of complicated language. "You don't want 18 pages of chapter and verse, but you also don't want to take a minimalist approach either with just one paragraph that says nothing," Brill says.
Keep non-native speakers top of mind. Brill cites a study UPS study of 500 e-commerce sites in which none offered returns specifics in a language other than English. You may be missing out on a chance to communicate to a wider population.
With 60 percent of those surveyed in UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper saying they preferred to go back to the store to return items rather than do so online, there's a clear opportunity for brick-and-mortar retailers to capitalize.
If boosting sales and creating healthy long-term relationships with your customers is on your to-do list this holiday season, retailers should continue refining and improving their returns policy and process to promote happy customer returns.
For ways to beat the post-holiday returns blues, click here.
Sign up for email offers, insights, and industry news that can help improve your shipping. You can manage your preferences at any time.
News and Insights to help you ship smarter
Service Updates to alert you to severe weather and events impacting operations
Promotions and Offers to help you get the most for your money
Product News to keep you up-to-date on new services, tools, and features