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Eight ways to create a better online returns experience

(Source: Bigstock.)

Although Omicron may have dampened New Year spending, ABS figures show the end of coronavirus lockdowns, Black Friday sales and early Christmas shopping led to record retail spending in November. 

Australian Bureau of Statistics data for November shows retail turnover jumped 7.3 per cent, following rises of 4.9 per cent in October and 1.3 per cent in September. However, of those sales, it’s predicted on average 30 per cent of those products bought online will be returned. 

As a result, the way businesses manage online returns is an important part of the customer journey. But what factors have the most impact on a returns process and how can Australian businesses optimise the experience to benefit customers?

  1. Embrace Digital Returns

Traditional approaches to returns have some inherent problems. For instance, not everyone has the printer required to create return labels, and putting a pre-printed label in every box adds both waste paper and cost. In contrast, digital returns can help boost brand sustainability credentials and potentially helps resell items faster.

By providing a return QR code on a shipping label or box, or on a packing slip for use at a drop-off or collection, retailers can print a return label while also triggering an update to their order management system. Alternatively, customers can be given the option of generating a QR code online, which can then be texted to them for easy access when the return is dropped off or picked up.

  1. Keep customers informed

When customers return products for a refund, the associated communication process should keep them regularly updated on the status of their payment. This not only helps avoid additional support calls from people frustrated about the status of their refund, but it can also build brand trust and maintain customer satisfaction.

  1. Identify customers with high return levels

Most retailers will be familiar with the challenges created by customers who both buy and return lots of products. Identifying these buy/return patterns is becoming an important step in effectively predicting the potential level of returns, which in turn, can help prevent excess stock replenishment.

  1. Monitor the lifetime value of customers

Some retailers have different returns policies or processes for high-value customers or those that tend to buy items at full price. This is an important consideration, as taking care of customers in these categories in the long term makes more business sense, so maintaining their loyalty is key. This is often true even if they have high return rates, and retailers should avoid penalising or even blacklisting loyal and active customers if possible.

  1. Resell returned items earlier in the process

Clearly, all returns must be quality checked before they can be re-released as saleable inventory. But products with the same stock-keeping unit (SKU) can often arrive in different locations, meaning retailers need to assess the average condition of returns for that type of item. In doing so, they can more quickly expose at least some of the return stock for sale online, helping to ensure greater efficiency.

  1. Optimise post processing

Similarly, the speed at which returned products can be resold also depends on the work that needs to be done on each item to get it back into a saleable condition. From washing and ironing apparel to recasting jewellery, tracking the condition and status of each item and working hard on the efficiency of the quality processes can have a significant impact on sales.

  1. Improve reverse logistics

When it comes to returns, convenience is king. While accepting online orders in-store is increasingly a minimum requirement where possible, some retailers now also accept returns at third party locations. 

But once they have been accepted, retailers then have to build an efficient process to get them back online or on the shelves as quickly as possible. This can range from processing them in-store to consolidating returned items for processing centrally. When items have to be shipped somewhere for processing, retailers must also work out the most effective logistics routes to minimise staff and transportation costs, as well as reduce their environmental impact.

  1. Returns are not a customer service afterthought

Today’s savvy consumers are becoming more familiar with returns processes and will use their experiences to inform future purchasing decisions. As a result, Australian businesses need to ensure that policies are clear and easy to find.  Creating a positive experience for customers who want to return an unwanted purchase is essential if you want to retain, and have the customer re-visit you, in the future.