Four ways retailers can make returns a seamless process for customers

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Online shopping in Australia is slowing down this year, with online sales slightly decreasing month-on-month. Bolstering the returns process is key for online retailers to boost sales and acquire and retain customers this year and well into 2023. In fact, research shows that 92% of consumers are incentivized to purchase items from a retailer that offers an easy returns process.

Returns is one of the most challenging processes for retailers to master. However, when done well, it can be vastly beneficial to their bottom line. Returns should be a key area for retailers to bolster and ensure it fulfills the new consumer need for convenience and ease when shopping online. Providing a returns process or platform that enables consumers to arrange returns in a simple, user-friendly way can save time and resources in the long term. It can also help ease pressure on customer service staff by reducing returns-related inquiries.

Consumers will ultimately be more inclined to make a purchase or multiple purchases when they know they can access a solution that offers flexibility, control and visibility over their returns. While the process itself should be simple and easy to access and use, retailers must also ensure their returns policy complies with Australian consumer law. Consumers are legally entitled to a refund, repair or replacement when a product is deemed faulty or unsafe, or when other factors apply. Although there is no legal obligation to allow ‘change of mind’ returns, I recommend retailers consider such a policy to encourage sales and increase consumer trust.

Here are four ideas for retailers to streamline their returns process to improve customer acquisition and loyalty. The first is to send orders in reusable packaging. Retailers can’t underestimate the hassle customers undergo when repackaging goods they are returning. Satchels that can easily be opened and resealed in a way that maintains their integrity enables the parcels to be reused and helps customers return items more quickly and in better condition. Currently, most parcel satchels need to be cut open, often ruining them in the process and forcing the customer to reseal the satchel clumsily or buy a new satchel at their own expense. Reusable packaging is also a more sustainable approach to returns, helping retailers attract the emerging segment of environmentally conscious shoppers. Retailers should also consider sustainable packaging, such as compostable or recyclable satchels.

The next idea is to make returns pages more visible and easily accessible. Customers expect the convenience of online shopping to be consistent across all aspects of the shopping journey. On many sites, however, the returns page is hidden in the fine print alongside terms and conditions and privacy policies. Then the returns process itself can be convoluted, with shoppers at some sites having to request a return authorization to enable the goods to be returned. A convoluted returns process is why some consumers avoid online shopping altogether; therefore, making improvements here will help direct more shoppers to online sites. Visually complex webpages can also significantly influence customers’ trust in the retailer and likely reduce repeat-purchase rates. I advise that considering visual elements, such as pictographs, can be beneficial in helping customers through the returns process while enhancing their perception of the retailer’s credibility and improving customer loyalty.

The third suggestion is to partner with a carrier that offers at-home returns collection. More Australians are working remotely, at least on a part-time basis, enabling them to receive online orders easily at home, including during work hours. At-home returns collection services are a slowly emerging trend that retailers can take advantage of. CouriersPlease offers such a service through a dedicated self-service portal, accessible through participating retailers’ websites, which means shoppers can arrange for items to be collected directly from their doorstep in three simple steps. According to a CouriersPlease survey of 1,000 Australians who shopped online at least three times in the last three months, 88% of consumers would be more likely to purchase from retailers that offer at-home returns collection, and 64% would pay for the service.

Finally, I advise partnering with a carrier that offers convenient drop-off options, including after-hours locations. For shoppers who have returned to the workplace, part of the hassle of returning items is finding the time to drop off items at the post office during business hours. Some couriers, including CouriersPlease, offer a collection-point network; customers can take their returns to retailers who are part of the network, such as petrol stations, convenience stores or pharmacies – many of which are open after hours. Retailers could consider partnering with a courier that offers such options, to increase the convenience and ease of arranging a return.

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