Around 29 million unwanted gifts will have been returned to online stores by the time the post-Christmas period closes, costing the industry an estimated £600 million of revenue that retailers would have hoped was money in the bank.
Research by OrderDynamics, a consultancy that specialises in helping omni-channel retailers, says that online stores can improve customer satisfaction and reduce return rates by following a six-point plan.
“Making profitable sense of this complexity requires a joined up approach. A seamless cross-channel customer experience is of course necessary: but optimising stock across the business and getting it into the hands of the customer efficiently in this connected world is the key to cash and profit. That is what we do,” the company states.
Its advice to retailers focuses on minimising returns by understanding what is causing them in the first place:
Pause promotion on high return items: Identify products with higher than usual returns early and suspend marketing and promotional activity driving traffic to that product. For example, one of our clients found that there was a high return rate on a product due to a fault and so paused its promotions on that item, until the problem was fixed.
Read the reviews: Customer reviews are the voice of your buyers, so track ratings and comments. Gather customer review data from across your entire product line and compare that to return rates.
Provide return options that customers actually want: Last year, OrderDynamics commissioned a survey of 2,000 shoppers which identified that the most favoured way to return online purchases was by taking them to a brick-and-mortar store (32%), followed by having a courier collect them (24%). Fewer preferred to post items (23%) back by only providing free postal returns might be costing you unnecessarily and inconveniencing your customers.
Match high returns with order details and product descriptions: We worked with a retailer who discovered that one colour of trousers was returned more than others. On closer investigation, it found its supplier had switched to a different fabric manufacturer for that particular colour. Not only was the colour different but the quality was not as good. It went back to its original manufacturer and the problem was resolved.
Deliver on your promise: Especially in peak trading times, if orders don’t arrive in time for Christmas or New Year’s Eve, particularly food items or party clothes, they may no longer be needed when they do arrive – and returned. If you know it won’t arrive in time, contact the customer with the option to cancel the order before you dispatch.
Link reasons for returns with product descriptions: For example, one clothing retailer had a high return rate for a particular dress and noted that customers stated the dress was much longer than expected. It updated the product’s sizing guide to include length and cross-promoted the dress with taller heels and a banner ad highlighting its tailoring service.
“Only by integrating both on and offline information from across the business, including reviews, products, operations and returns data can you better prepare for a surge in unwanted gifts,” OrderDynamics concludes.