How Retailers Can Create A Positive Returns Experience Post-BFCM and Throughout 2023
Last year, almost 17% of retail sales were returned, amounting to more than $760 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. A return doesn’t need to be the end of the customer relationship, but how it’s handled can make or break it. A positive eCommerce returns experience has been shown to retain customers, boost revenue and create positive brand impressions.
How can online retailers prepare for the slew of inevitable returns during holiday season?
What Consumers Want
Despite inflation and the economic downturn, consumers are continuing to spend. However, in response to the global Covid-19 pandemic, they’re spending more money on experiences such as travel and entertainment rather than on tangible goods.
Overall, our Head of Customer Success, Michael Pojman, projects that overall holiday sales volumes will dip to about 10% lower than last year; although we anticipate that the impact will be more prevalent in online shopping. This is due to online retailers holding earlier-than-ever sales in an effort to reduce their surplus of inventory ahead of the holidays, and because consumers have lower budgets for physical goods.
Certain verticals are seeing an uptick while others are declining. For example, cosmetics are seeing an increase, but athleisure is undergoing a decline compared to more mainstream clothing brands. This is likely due to the ease of Covid restrictions and increased socialization. Consumers are likely excited to swap out their athleisure for more fashionable clothing as they are no longer confined by the pandemic’s restrictions.
Consumers will be using more caution while spending this holiday season. Coupled with the influx of shoppers partaking in bracketing-– buying multiple sizes or colors of the same item and then returning about 50% of their orders — this will cause online brands to experience a higher return rate than in previous years. Our research found that seven out of 10 shoppers have bracketed this year.
How eCommerce businesses can keep customers satisfied during the holiday season
We know how important a seamless post-purchase experience is for customers. Despite the anticipated reduction in spending, there will still be holiday purchases – and inevitable returns. Retailers must focus on the post-purchase experience to create customer loyalty. Not only do consumers want to know an estimated delivery date (EDD) and receive proactive notifications about delays, they also want an easy returns process.
The economic downturn, however, has forced some retailers to cut support resources, so it’s more important than ever for them to adopt technology to automate returns. This has been proven to reduce the returns processing time by up to 50% for retailers while decreasing the number of customer service agents by 54% for others. An integrated post-purchase solution enables multiple teams to access one single portal to further automate manual processes. In fact, Marc Nolan, a high-end men’s shoe company and AfterShip Returns customer, cited a 97% reduction in hours spent managing manual returns as a result of the portal’s automated features.
Free shipping and returns
Carriers impose “peak surcharges” to combat huge spikes in volume during the holidays. In response, many retailers have ceased offering free returns. However, to maintain a longer lifetime value, it behooves online brands to offer them. Our survey of shoppers from more than 50 countries found that 23% cited paying a fee as one of the most frustrating aspects of an online return, while 28% would not continue shopping at the online store if they had a negative experience. Even more alarming is that 60% of respondents avoid an online purchase at least once a month because they expect the returns process to be frustrating.
Monitoring On-time Delivery Rates
Brands can set themselves up for success by setting reasonable delivery expectations at the outset of the purchasing journey. Retailers that utilize post-purchase platforms to help predict EDDs at product and checkout pages will be better positioned to manage customer expectations. If there are delivery delays or other issues, brands should focus on proactively resolving the issue before a customer reaches out to ask “Where is my order?” In fact, some retailers have been able to reduce their WISMO tickets by 75% when utilizing a post-purchase platform.
The Bottom Line
Although holiday spending is expected to dip this year, retailers can retain customers by focusing on a seamless post-purchase experience and frictionless returns process.
Contributed by Andrew Chan is the Co-founder and CPO of AfterShip, the game-changing platform for online retailers such as Etsy and brands including Dyson and Kylie Cosmetics. He has expertise in eCommerce, marketing, SaaS, and shipping and logistics with more than a decade of experience in the industry. Andrew has been quoted by outlets such as TechCrunch, Business Insider, TotalRetail, PYMNTS.com, and more.