National Returns Day comes early this year, with retail returns expecting to reach 1 million every day in December and peaking at 1.5 million on Dec. 19. Traditionally, the returns industry is seen as an unavoidable burden to retailers — it’s a sign of dissatisfied customers and the source of $260 billion in lost revenue every year. Despite projections that up to $37 billion in e-commerce sales will be returned this holiday season, this could present retailers with an opportunity to win over shoppers.
It’s not the need to return an item that deters customers — it’s the process. E-commerce continues to grow even though 75 percent of consumers have returned an online purchase, according to a new report by UPS. In fact, 79 percent of consumers factor in free delivery for returns when choosing a retailer, suggesting they are comfortable with the likelihood of needing to exchange a purchase before they even make it.
“We all want to get a purchase right the first time, but that rarely happens,” said Kathleen Marran, VP of US marketing at UPS. “Consumers know they can order a few different sizes or styles and keep what works — and they want that process to be hassle-free.”
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In short: retailers shouldn’t fear returns — but they should give the process some consideration. Investing in a smooth returns process could improve customer loyalty and recoup revenue through future purchases, as shown through a study by reverse logistics software provider Optoro. It found that 97 percent of consumers are likely to repurchase from a retailer if they had a positive returns experience, while 89 percent would avoid a brand with a bad returns process.
So how can retailers ensure the return experience is enjoyable for the consumer? CBRE’s industrial and logistics team recommends addressing strains in supply chain logistics, whether through sourcing more warehouse space or recruiting a third-party logistics provider. This ensures that customers receive their refunds as efficiently as possible while also helping retailers get their product back on the market in a timely manner. While these methods require a financial investment, many companies have demonstrated the positive impact of a streamlined returns policy.
“The footwear industry has done more for the returns business model than any other sector,” said Marran. “Companies like Foot Locker and Zappos led the way in making footwear purchasing returns easy, fun and convenient. Shoes have consistently been among the top items returned since we started watching in 2012, but smart retailers know that happy consumers make return purchases.”
For higher-priced items, the promise of a convenient return if the customer isn’t satisfied can be the reassurance needed to convert a sale. On the lower end, an easy exchange policy can encourage shoppers to visit a store more frequently and make multiple purchases. And the benefits of in-store returns should not be underestimated; on average, these generate an additional sale worth 107 percent of the original purchase, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.