What retailers should consider before the holiday returns rush
By Amit Sharma, founder and CEO, Narvar
With the 2017 holiday season fast approaching, retailers are already beginning to prep for the inevitable spike in ecommerce business. Just last year, U.S. ecommerce sales jumped by 17.8 percent over the holiday season, andeMarketer expects another 15.8 percent rise this year. But the more holiday gifts and other seasonal merchandise are bought online, the more retailers worry about returns.
We've all heard by now that returns are the new normal — and that they can be very expensive, costing the U.S. retail industry around$260 billion a year. If left unchecked, returns can be a very costly business expense. And that will be especially true once holiday hits.
What consumers want when it comes to returns
Consumer expectations about returns are evolving, too, and with so many options at their fingertips, customers are likely to frequent retailers who offer convenient, cost effective, and transparent experiences.
To stay on top of the holiday rush, retailers need to understand emerging customer returns trends. In a recentconsumer study, Narvar found that a majority of shoppers actively review return policies before committing to purchase. In addition, an increasing number of consumers — spearheaded by millennials and the affluent — are "bracketing" purchases, or buying multiple versions of an item in different sizes or colors to try on at home with the intention of keeping their favorites and returning the rest. The study also found consumers want the option to return online purchases to a store to get immediate credit back and possibly shop for other items, and they expect Amazon-style transparency when it comes to status of their return and refund.
What retailers can do to meet expectations
First and foremost, retailers must look at returns policies as a way to gain a competitive edge in the marketplace. Yes, returns can be expensive. But consumers that have a positive returns experience are more likely to come back and buy more, which means a lot considering it costs five times as much to acquire a new customer as keep an existing one. In addition, increasing customer loyalty by 5 percent can lead to 75 percent more revenue down the line. And as noted above, returns can be a driving factor when it comes to loyalty.
Here are a few tips for retailers as they prepare for impending holiday season returns:
Cost: While it might be an expense for your business up front, eliminating restocking and return shipping fees will ultimately encourage more ecommerce purchases in the long run, as amajority of shopperssay these fees will prevent them from buying. One way to mitigate this cost is by doing away with pre-printed labels, and instead offering a step-by-step online returns process that lets customers simply print their own label if they need one.
Convenience: Provide a window of at least 30 days for returns (or even longer over the holidays, when consumers tend to make purchases well in advance of gift giving), implement an online returns process that showcases predicted refunds, and offer the option to return or exchange purchases or gifts in-store.
Transparency: Put your consumers at ease by giving them visibility into the returns journey via easily accessible package tracking information and refund status updates.
Information: Minimize returns by providing clear and detailed information on your product pages, and be upfront with your returns policy to avoid question overload (or cart abandonment) and expensive customer care calls.
Communication: Open lines of communication through every possible channel — website, mobile apps, messaging platforms, social media, chatbots, email, and phone — so that customers can choose their preferred method to resolve issues.
Analytics: Collect data about your consumers' preferences, purchasing histories, and past service experiences so that you can better personalize and optimize customer engagements.
Inventory: By requiring customers to initiate returns online, you can gain critical visibility to determine the most efficient and cost-effective delivery routes and logistics partners, decide which facilities to process returns in, and keep tabs on which inventory is available in every location.
There's no question that today's retailers must make returns a priority, especially as the holidays approach and more customers begin receiving gifts that were purchased online. Customers now expect an effortless returns experience, and retailers that cannot live up to those expectations will undoubtedly be left in the dust. And ultimately, a positive returns process is a win-win for everyone — retailers can optimize their inventory and supply chain costs, and customers are more satisfied and come back to shop again.