Realizing an optimal return procedure in ecommerce

tips  June 26, 2019

Many online stores still see the return process as a thorn in their side. Returned items cause extra costs, extra work and a more difficult marketability of these products. However, what is often forgotten is that the return procedure is one of the most important parts of logistics handling, because a good return procedure can actually stimulate the sale of products. In this blog, we show you the components of an optimal ecommerce return procedure. Let’s have a look.

The return procedure is one of the most important parts of logistics handling

The importance of a good return procedure
Ecommerce is booming and this creates huge competition between the various online stores, worldwide. The consumer is gaining more and more online experience and has a choice of many providers, products and services. The expectations of the online shopper with regard to the total purchasing and delivery process are continuously adjusted upwards by this, and this is not least related to the return policy of online stores.

It is estimated that one-third of all online purchases worldwide are returned. 20% of apparel and soft goods are returned and for expensive items this is even as high as 50%. For comparison: the brick-and-mortar return rate is around 9%[1]. Moreover, our own research shows that more than two thirds or online shoppers (68%) take the possibility of a return into account when purchasing products online. The main reason for this is that when shopping online it is not possible to try on, feel or view the product in real life. It is therefore very important for etailers that they pay just as much attention to the return process as to the sales and marketing of their products.

The main components
An efficient and friction-free return procedure can be realized in various ways, but our own research has shown that it consists of at least the following seven elements: returns free of charge, a return label printed and included in the parcel, easy to reuse original packaging for returns, track and trace of returns, returns at a collection point nearby, returns directly upon reception and direct refund upon postal reception.

1. Returns free of charge
It appears that 68% of online shoppers expect online stores to offer returns free of charge. They see this as a service that etailers should offer as standard. Should it be decided to charge for the cost for returns, this can affect customer satisfaction. However, there are also disadvantages to free returns that mainly affect smaller online stores. These disadvantages are, for example, wardrobing or changing shopping behaviour, which ensure that the online stores are burdened with additional costs. Online stores can therefore also choose to offer only the exchange of products for free.

2. A return label printed and included in the parcel
The second element of a good return procedure is a printed return label that is included in the parcel. If online stores provide the return label in the parcel, the consumer can easily return the shipment if this is necessary or desired. Failure to include a printed return label may result in frustration among the online shopper. It can also cause the returns not to arrive at the right destination, because labels are not legible, or information is missing.

3. Easy to reuse original packaging for returns
Convenience and efficiency are very important aspects for many consumers when they shop online. This means that they do not want to search for suitable packaging in which they can return their products. The provision of easy to reuse original packaging for returns is therefore very important. It must also be ensured that this original packaging can be adapted to the return shipment. After delivery, the filling material is often removed by the consumer and this can damage the product. Packaging with an extra closing strip or packaging that can be made smaller can therefore be more profitable.

4. Track and trace of returns
Our research shows that more than half of online shoppers (53%) consider track and trace of returns a standard service. This means that consumers like to know the status of their returned item. Offering track and trace of returns gives online shoppers insight and a sense of certainty.

5. Returns at a collection point nearby
The location where consumers can return the package is also considered to be an important aspect of the return procedure. Our research shows that consumers prefer to bring their returned package to a collection point nearby their house. This is followed by a local shop drop off point and a locker box.

6. Returns directly upon reception
For direct returns, the courier waits upon reception if the customer wants to return something. The advantage of this is that if a consumer is not satisfied with the product, this product is quickly returned to the etailer. This makes the item available for sale faster. In addition, the advantage of direct returns is that online shoppers know for sure that the product has been returned correctly.

7. Direct refund upon postal reception
Online shoppers do not see a direct refund upon postal reception as a standard service, but certainly as a service that adds value to the customer journey. It is not always possible for etailers to offer a direct refund upon postal reception. In that case, consumers are willing to wait a maximum of ten days until they have their money back after they returned a product.

To realize an optimal return procedure, it is important that, in any case, the above-mentioned seven elements are considered and adopted. In addition, the customer journey also improves if online stores give the consumer an extended period of time to return their products. It turns out that European consumers expect the return period of a purchase to be at least two weeks, with an average of 17 days.

[1] Shopify (2017) How to reduce ecommerce return rates & predict what customer want.
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