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How to support a winning customer experience in the returns process

An easy returns process can contribute to improved customer loyalty.

For many retailers and their supply chain partners, returns are a huge headache. Not only is there the potential for money to be lost on reverse shipping costs, but there is also the chance that customer loyalty will be impacted if this process doesn't go smoothly.

Now that returns, and the ability to enable a winning experience during this process, is a strong differentiator for retail brands, it's imperative to take certain considerations into account.

A look at state of reverse logistics

To say that returns are the new normal is a vast understatement. Based on data from Navar and Return Magic, Shopify found that many customers are not only more comfortable with making returns, but some actually set out with this plan in mind.

Overall, 41% of consumers noted that they'll buy several different variations of a product at once, with the intention to keep their preferred one and return the others.

Thankfully, there are a few key strategies retailers can incorporate to help streamline the returns process and support the best experience for customers.

"Identify gaps in your return policy that might prevent customers from buying in the first place."

Accept that returns are the new normal: Create a policy that helps drive growth

First and foremost, it's important for decision-makers to view the returns process through a different lens. While returns may have been seen as a costly hassle in the past, other sellers are creating a more generous returns policy that can actually drive growth.

Consider Zappos, for example. The online shoe seller, owned by Amazon, has an incredibly liberal policy that encompasses free two-way shipping that allows customers to try on items and return them if they aren't satisfied. Zappos' VP of services and operations Craig Adkins told Fast Company that while the company's best customers have the highest return rates, they also spend the most.

In this way, it's worth taking a second look at your returns policy, and identifying gaps that might prevent customers from buying in the first place.

Consider your customers: Identify habitual returners

However, a more generous returns policy should also incorporate the different types of customers your brand works with. Invesp found that while many shoppers make returns because they received a damaged item (20%), the product is different than what they expected (22%) or what they received was incorrect (23%), other customers can be considered "serial returners."

These shoppers may purchase an item with the intention of using it just once and then returning it, or may buy several different sizes and colors at once in order to choose what they like best. In either case, it's important to profile these customers through the data accessible within a robust order management system. Details like order history can help you identify habitual returners, and put a limit on their returns – like only allowing four items to be returned per order within a seven-day window, for instance. Such policies enable customers to try before they buy and support their loyalty and beneficial experience, without unduly driving up costs on the retailer's side.

Returns will continue to be a big part of the retail process and it's important that customers are satisfied. To find out more about how an order management system plays a role here, connect with our expert consultants at SFG today.

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