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5 ways to create a positive customer returns experience

Person wrapping up item for return

Whether they come in a mad rush after the holidays or flow in steadily during the rest of the year, customer returns are a fact of retail life. According to the 2019 UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper™ survey, more than one third (36%) of online shoppers worldwide returned an item in the three months leading up to the survey.

That’s a lot of returned goods for companies to grapple with. But handling returns is more than simply managing return logistics. Getting your customer returns right may make the difference between securing a repeat customer and losing their business entirely.

As an e-tailer, here are five ways you can develop a returns process that keeps your customers happy and works for your business.

1. Recognize the demand for free return shipping

Shoppers have always been drawn to the word “free.” So it’s no surprise that free return shipping is an important consideration when purchasing online.

In the 2019 online shopper survey, 42% of respondents listed free return shipping as the primary factor in shaping a positive returns experience. For B2B firms, that percentage rises to 61%. Clearly, the offer of free return shipping is a powerful lure.

What’s even more telling is how having to pay for a return can affect the customer’s relationship with an e-tailer. Almost seven in 10 respondents (69%) indicate that paying for a return reduces the chance they’ll purchase from that retailer again. That number rises to 85% if the delivered item is of poor quality, arrives late, is faulty, or doesn’t match its online presentation. 

Having to fork over cash for a return obviously leaves a bad taste in the mouth for many consumers. And they are ready to take matters into their own hands, voting with their pocketbooks and leaving bad reviews that can harm your business.

Does that mean e-tailers should offer free return shipping at any cost? Not necessarily, but it does mean you must have a well-designed customer returns policy in place that offers flexibility and choice.

2. Devise a clear, hassle-free returns policy

The terms of your customer returns policy can influence whether or not shoppers decide to buy from you. So make sure your returns policy is clear and user friendly.

More than two thirds (68%) of shoppers say they review an e-tailer’s returns policy before buying from the site. Almost everyone surveyed (96%) said a straightforward returns policy would prompt them to buy from the same source again. In other words, getting returns right is good for your business.

Whatever your policy, it is important to state it plainly and communicate it proactively. This is even more important heading into peak retail season, as the volume of sales (and returns) sharply increases. As an e-tailer, be sure to also factor the “buy many, keep one” consumer mindset into your business operations.

For B2B purchasers, a clear and easy policy for e-commerce returns is equally important. Business buyers want simplicity and clarity just as much as the online shopper seeking holiday gifts.

3. Make refunds easy

Money matters to your customers. And so does speed. Once shoppers have decided to return an item, they want their purchase refunded or exchanged fast.

The major reason survey respondents noted for a poor returns experience was delay in receiving a refund. Consumers are similarly irritated by delay in receiving a replacement item.

When it comes to refunds, shoppers have good reason for impatience. According to the survey, product quality is the primary reason for returns—the item was faulty or damaged, substandard, or not as advertised. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. If there was a problem with the product you ordered and then a delay in getting a refund, wouldn’t you be annoyed?

To keep your customers happy, try to prevent complaints about quality arising in the first place. Ensure your packaging is sturdy enough to protect your merchandise, and double-check that your online marketing accurately represents what you’re selling.

When a customer requests a refund that meets the terms of your returns policy, get the money back to them as quickly as possible. Aim to offer an automatic refund to their debit or credit card. One quarter (24%) of survey respondents said the prospect of an automatic refund to their card contributed most to a positive returns experience.

4. Enable easy-to-print return labels

Nobody wants to jump through hoops to get their return on its way, and that starts with having the right label.

In the survey, 21% of respondents listed the availability of an easy-to-print return label as most contributing to a positive returns experience.

Make returns management—including the creation of labels—easy on yourself and your customers. UPS Returns® Manager lets you offer the convenience of pre-authorized returns, with easy-to-print return labels and mobile codes for label-less returns at The UPS Store® locations.

5. Offer an easy-to-follow returns process

Having a clear returns policy is one thing, but how easy is your returns process to follow? 

Shoppers want an intuitive, low-stress experience when it comes to customer returns, with no need for sending emails or making calls to customer service.

And it’s not just retail consumers who value a customer-friendly, low-touch approach. Two-thirds of B2B purchasers (67%) welcome a simple returns process, a figure which rises to 77% for distributors.

Above all, consumers appreciate flexibility. Be sure to give your customers alternate ways of returning their packages, so they can select the method most convenient for them. For example, highlight drop-off options through the UPS Access Point® network of neighborhood retailers and the nationwide network of UPS® Drop Boxes, as well as nearby The UPS Store locations. 

If you’re an e-tailer with brick-and-mortar locations, remember shoppers are often happy to “buy online, return in store.” And they may even make another purchase once inside. When you focus on giving your customers greater control over the total buying experience, including returns, you can help keep them coming back to you.

Maximizing the ROI of customer returns

As we approach what analysts predict will be another record-breaking holiday season for e-commerce sales, you’ll want to be well prepared for the inevitable spike in returns.

Focus on making the returns process as straightforward and painless as possible for your customers—and trust they will reward you for it over time.

Read more insights into the fast-moving world of online returns in the 2019 UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper study, and find out how UPS can help ease the challenge of returns management.  

Download the Study

Find Out More

  • UPS Returns and Reverse Logistics

    Create a competitive advantage with returns that work for your customers, your brand and your bottom line.

    Learn about UPS Returns solutions
  • Discover the Latest Trends in E-Commerce

    Keep up with online shopping trends by exploring the 2019 UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper™ Survey.

    Download the study
  • Simplify Customer Returns

    Create a competitive advantage with returns that work for your customers, your brand and your bottom line.

    Learn more about UPS Returns Manager
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