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Jaidyn Farar

What Makes a Great Returns Experience?

by Jaidyn Farar

With the 2023 peak season behind you, it’s easy to slip back into a business-as-usual mindset. But while sales may have slowed, you’re likely already facing another hurdle: returns. Whether it’s the toy that broke on Christmas morning, the too-small shoes, or a gift that just didn’t hit home, you’re going to be seeing a flood of returned products—and the pressure is on to provide a great returns experience. 

Research has shown that if the returns process goes smoothly, you’ll convince customers to buy from you again. If it doesn’t, they’ll look to your competitors next time they want to make a purchase. 

In this article, we’ll look at four factors that contribute to a great returns experience: flexibility, clear communication, a transparent policy, and free shipping.

Flexible returns process

More than 40% of customersopens in new tab would rather sit in rush hour traffic than return an online purchase. And who can blame them? When returning something is time-consuming or tedious, most people dread the task.

That’s why the first key to an excellent returns process is making things easy for the customer. If they have to jump through hoops to return something, they probably won’t be eager to buy something else from your store. 

To ensure your returns process is as flexible and convenient as possible, offer a self-serve online portal and let customers choose how they’d like to return products. If that’s not possible, or if your customer doesn’t want to use the portal for a particular return, make it easy for your agents to find the customer and order and then provide a clear path to resolving the problem through great customer service tooling and a solid view of your customer.

Self-serve portal

Customers should be able to access a returns portal on your website where they can initiate a return, print a shipping label, see details of past returns, and track their return’s progress. The key to an effective self-serve portal is user-friendliness, so make sure your portal has an intuitive interface and clear instructions. 

Aside from the customer service benefits, a self-service portal will allow you to do the following:

  • Reduce the cost of servicing returns by automating key steps that may otherwise require an agent.
  • Capture key data such as the reasons for reporting so you can quickly understand any actions you need to take both for that order and for product issues you need to address.
  • Integrate data into your Order Management System (OMS) so your teams can be better prepared and to open up more opportunities to understand your key returns KPIs.
  • Highlight options for your customer in processing the return.
  • Rate shop and create labels on demand to optimize the costs of your return label and understand expected arrival information.
  • Facilitate communication with the customer as their return proceeds through your internal processes.

Multiple return options

With an omnichannel fulfillment model, you can offer customers various options for returning products. Consider offering BORIS, scheduled home pickup, and third-party dropoff. 

  • Buy online, return in-store (BORIS). If you have local stores, you might provide a BORIS option that lets people return online purchases to brick-and-mortar stores. As long as you make the process seamless, BORIS is a great way to bridge online and in-store experiences. It can even boost revenue—62% of customersopens in new tab use their refund to take advantage of a chance to shop in person.
  • Scheduled home pickup. Scheduled home pickup is another convenient option. Customers simply package their product and leave it on the doorstep, where a carrier comes to pick it up and ship it back to your business. Research has found that nearly 25% of customers opens in new tabwill pay for the convenience of this service.
  • Drop off with a carrier. Of course, there’s always the classic option: have the customer ship the return back by taking it to a carrier’s location. One survey found that nearly 40% of shoppersopens in new tab returned their most recent online purchase using this method. If you handle returns this way, provide clear instructions for packaging and dropping off the product. 

Clear communication

Nobody likes being left in the dark, so make sure to keep customers informed at each stage of the returns process. Full transparency eases potential concerns and demonstrates a commitment to customer satisfaction.

Start by acknowledging you’ve received a return request, then continue to provide timely updates during each stage of the process: shipping, arrival at your facility, and processing. Once the return has been processed and the refund or replacement sent, send a confirmation message. 

With clear communication, you’ll keep customers in the loop so they’re not left wondering if they’ll ever see their refund or replacement.

Transparent, consistent policy 

According to one study, 86% of consumersopens in new tab check a store’s return policy before buying anything.  And they have a good reason—when they’re well-informed about your rules and procedures, they can avoid uncertainty and potential frustration.

Follow these tips to get the most out of your return policy:

  • Make the policy accessible. Your website should be organized like a library, not the shelf of a scatter-brained book collector. In other words, make sure site users can easily navigate to your return policy.  Rather than burying it under layers of links, include it somewhere people will be able to find it.
  • Keep it consistent across channels. The information in your policy should be uniform across all channels—website, social media, and any other customer touchpoints. Whether someone buys something online, through social media, or through your mobile app, the return window and requirements should be consistent.
  • Get the whole team on board. As another step toward consistency, train each of your customer service representatives to provide accurate information in line with the policy. 
  • Review and update. Odds are, your return policy will eventually need some tweaks. As your business evolves, remember to review and update the policy as needed. Proactively communicate any changes so customers aren’t surprised.

Free return shipping

Remember, the returns process is a touchpoint that can either frustrate or delight your customers. By offering free return shipping, you can tip the scales toward delight. But beware—free shipping isn’t always the best strategy.

Why free shipping?

Many shoppers expect free shipping on returns—in fact, 53%opens in new tab believe the business should cover the cost. If you decide to go this route, you remove a potential barrier for customers who might hesitate to make a purchase. Free return shipping gives these nervous shoppers the confidence to explore your products without worrying about additional expenses. 

Alternatives to free shipping

Of course, paying return shipping fees could have a big financial impact on your business, especially if you sell clothing. Have you noticed people buying multiple products in different colors or sizes, only to return the ones that don’t fit? Charging for return shipping can help discourage this behavior and reduce your costs. Providing a BORIS option is a great alternative to free shipping—you can let people drop their returned products off at the store without paying extra.

Step up your returns game with EasyPost

Creating an excellent returns experience is easier said than done, but EasyPost can help. Our consulting services, Summit Advisory Team, have extensive retail expertise both on the retailer/client side and working with B2B and B2C retailers from the consulting side and can support you in the following ways: 

  • Understand and assess the opportunity within your business, including helping you build a plan to capitalize on it.
  • Select and implement an industry-leading returns portal, customer care solution, and/or order management solution (we are technology agnostic and partner with many of the major players in these spaces).
  • Update your existing customer care or order management solution to better manage your returns.
  • Implement industry-leading omnichannel analytics either through your own existing analytics solution or through our pre-built EasyPost Analyticsopens in new tab platform.
  • Support organizational change management and process development activities.

Reach out to us at info@summitadvisoryteam.com to set up a free introductory consultation to work out how we can help.

Additional to our consulting expertise, we can help you build your reverse logistics process on a solid foundation of streamlined shipping operations with our EasyPost shipping solution! EasyPost automates shipping for small, medium, and large businesses alike, allowing them to access rate discounts, automate shipping label creation, track packages, and more.

Sign up to streamline post-peak returns.