3 Tips for Nailing Returns

For online retailers, returns can be a massive pain-point. From lost revenue, wasted postage, and unsellable returned items, returns can easily become one of the most costly parts of a business. Consumers typically dislike returns almost as much as retailers, given the hassle of handling, packaging, and hidden fees.

Fortunately, there are ways to manage returns that can make them easier for everyone involved– and even decrease overall returns volume. With the holidays around the corner, there’s no better time to optimize your returns game. Here’s how.


Set the right policy for your business

According to a research study conducted by ShipStation, 72% of consumers say return policies directly influence their online purchase decisions. With this in mind, it’s important to set a returns policy that makes the most sense for your business, but also prioritizes customer convenience. If customers don’t like your return policy, you’ll likely lose the sale to a company that offers a more consumer-friendly return policy. A good rule of thumb is to offer a flexible time frame for customers to return items– somewhere between 30-90 days.

Having a hassle-free returns policy is a great first step, but what’s the point if shoppers can’t find it? Clearly communicate your return policy. Let customers know what products they can return, whether they get a full refund or store credit, how long they have to make a return, and if return shipping is free. Shoppers value transparency, as most have been hit with the surprise of hidden fees and short return time frames.


Implement a self-service returns portal

Many retailers have relied on offering pre-printed labels in shipments to make returns fast and easy. But while these labels offered convenience for the customer, it also often resulted in high volumes of unused labels being voided, not to mention wasted materials and cost of printing.

Instead, retailers should embrace self-service return portals. One benefit is the reduced time in customer support. With a lower volume of emails, calls, and needed chat support, sales teams are freed up to focus on more strategic initiatives. What’s more, ShipStation found that shoppers were 29% more likely to keep shopping with merchants who had implemented this type of software versus merchants who had not.

When setting up your returns portal, be sure to provide a visible link to it for easy customer access. It’s good practice to test your returns process for inefficiencies and confusion by having an outsider– or even an employee in a different department– go through the returns process with a sample order. Is the self-service portal user-friendly? Is it easy to find? Make any necessary adjustments to your portal as found by this test.


Use data to unlock key insights

Setting up a hassle-free returns policy and portal is incredibly important from a customer standpoint, but understanding the “why” behind your returns can provide invaluable insight for the business and decrease your overall returns volume.

Take a systematic approach and gather data from the customers’ “reason for return” form. This feedback can help you understand where you’re lagging. Is there an issue with the actual product? The packaging or carrier? Your sizing chart? Discover if there’s a trend in the customers’ reasons for returns, and make the necessary steps to solve for these recurring issues. For example, if you’re finding that many customers report that a product is not as pictured or described, consider improving your product photography and offering more detailed descriptions on the site around fit, fabric, function, etc.


While you can decrease your returns volume, they will never fully go away, so having a plan to optimize the experience for both sides is vital. Even if you currently don’t see any issues with your returns process, it’s best to stay one step ahead so your systems and policies scale with your business. Your proactive efforts could be the difference between a one-time holiday shopper and a loyal, long-term customer.


Contributed by John Kinny, General Manager, ShipStation.

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