How can retailers improve their returns management to drive improved customer loyalty?

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With a record volume of goods returned post-Black Friday and a UK economy that continues to shake consumer spending and confidence in equal measure, online retailers could be excused for a feeling somewhat helpless as we head into 2023. But far from feeling exposed to unpredictable changes in consumer shopping behaviour, retailers should always be on the front foot, pre-empting trends and putting systems in place to deliver the best possible experience for their customers.

One area of predictability is the wave of retail returns in the post-Christmas period – this is true in a normal year, but especially true when consumers are feeling strapped for cash. The volume of returns might be an inevitable part of doing business online, and the process is always costed in to stocking and sales expectation, but an inadequate returns management process can cause harm to a business in other ways.

Poor customer experience and inefficient processing can lead to the rapport established with a customer being lost in the final mile.  Retailers can’t change the volume of returns they receive, but they can ensure they have the capability to process them efficiently this Christmas. The burden of returned orders can be better managed using online return platforms, where customers can open new returns requests and track their status. Not only do these platforms simplify processes, and therefore improve customer experience at a time when it matters most, but online returns portals also offer considerable benefits to retailers themselves.

Query reasons for returns using your online returns platform

There are many reasons why a consumer might return their Christmas gift. Perhaps the jumper they’ve received is too small, or maybe just not their style. Retailers that continue to rely on paper returns slips are missing a trick, leaving customers frustrated when they are misplaced, especially amongst the Christmas present wrapping madness.

With an online returns portal, retailers can offer customers flexibility and choice in their day-to-day shopping experience: it could be a simple exchange for the larger size, or a hassle-free return of a faulty product for a new one. Not only does this keeps customer expenditure within the company, but also it keeps shoppers happy, especially when items are faulty.

Provide pro-active information on the status of returns to customers

As soon as customers return an item, they expect to be updated on any status changes and especially the timeframe of receiving their refund. During busy periods, retailers must ensure they have the systems in place to deal with inevitable influxes in returns, so backlogs are avoided, and customers receive the smooth service they expect at all other points in the customer journey.

For retailers, the secret to bidding farewell to the frustrated shopper, waiting furiously on hold with customer care helplines, is proactive post-purchase communications. If consumers are notified when returns are received, processed, and complete they have no reason to make calls to customer service teams, giving staff time back to deal with other matters. This is particularly crucial when delays occur.

The returns experience can be the most frustrating stage of the customer journey, but this only emphasises how vital it is for retailers to keep customers informed. Leaving consumers in the dark as to whether their return has even been received, let alone when their money will be returned, is a sure-fire way to damage any loyalty or trust the initial shopping experience had helped to embed.

Use your online returns portal to plan ahead

With paper slip returns, online retailers could incorrectly estimate the number of returns they are likely to receive during a particular period. Forward-thinking retailers that invest in an online returns portal avoid this uncertainty. Predictive analytics tools empower retailers with estimates of returns volumes, with some even going one step further and using the insights to strategically distribute loads between branches and warehouses. This can help to guarantee fast return processing times, even during busy periods, and provide a smoother experience for the customer engaged in this aspect of the shopping journey.

Give customers a choice of returns options

Customers value choice, yet our recent study uncovered that 30% of the UK’s top brands currently provide customers with just two returns options. Increasing the number of choices offered ensures customers aren’t tempted to look elsewhere for a service that is more adaptable to their growing demands. One example is providing for more environmentally conscious shoppers – paperless returns or carbon off-set delivery options are easy to implement and constitute a reliable way to communicate shared values with your customer base.

Ensure customers have positive post-purchase experiences using personalised communications

Returns are often a pain point for customers, with long waits for confirmation increasing the potential of brand resentment. But they are also a crucial part of doing business online and buyers know it. Emails sent post-purchase often have open rates upwards of 80%, compared with the 20% usually seen with marketing contact. Brands that don’t use this opportunity to offer additional information about the products purchased or relevant items that they might choose to buy alongside their product are missing a trick. These are the kind of meaningful messages that keep customers coming back.

Overall, retailers must consider their returns processes as a fundamental to the way they do business. The returns experience customers have can determine whether they continue to buy from a retailer, so evolving and improving the processes should be positioned high on priority lists.