Follow the three C’s for a seamless returns service

22-11-2017 |


Returns are often seen as a necessary evil for retailers, but getting the returns service right can reap rewards in terms of customer loyalty and reducing the overall cost of reverse logistics. Doddle looks at the three C’s essential for designing and managing a seamless returns experience.

1. Communication

The golden rule: make it easy for customers to understand your returns process and where to find the relevant information.


Research from MetaPack shows that as many as 76% of consumers look at a retailer’s return policy before they complete an order, so it makes sense to speed up your conversion by making that information easier to find. In the same vein, customers aren’t mind readers, so if you don’t publicise a returns option, they may shop elsewhere with retailer that does.


Another point worthy of debate is the effectiveness of dispatch notes. Including a dispatch note in each parcel adds to the cost for the retailer, but getting all the relevant returns options and locations on a piece of A5 paper is nigh on impossible. So who benefits from the use of dispatch notes?


In a digital world, why we need to include paper for a transaction that takes place entirely online seems somewhat crazy, especially when the process can be paperless and give customers richer information online anyway. The growing appeal of returns portals we think is good for both consumer and retailer.


With the retailer receiving more information about the items being returned ahead of time, the opportunity exists to begin refund transactions earlier, resulting in happier customers. It does add a few more clicks though.


Communicating the tracking of a customer’s return is another area where we have made changes to our own service at Doddle as a result of customer feedback. We made it much more visual so it was clear where the parcel was and what its estimated arrival would be.


In all but a few rare cases a refund is not processed until the parcel is back at the retailer’s DC. This duration between the return and refund is important because the customer doesn’t feel they have control over their purchase once it leaves their hands. Customers care about the progress of this journey and want to know it’s made it back safely.


Ensuring your delivery partners can help you to communicate with your customers on the progress of their return is critical, and getting it right will save your customer service team from a lot of pain.

2. Cost

The horse has undoubtedly bolted when it comes to free returns. There aren’t many retailers able to compete effectively in a multi-channel environment today that don’t offer free returns. However, there are ways to make it more sustainable.


Prioritising the returns options that are the most cost effective to fulfil by offering retailers a consolidation benefit gives consumers what they want (a free return) but also helps retailers manage the costs.


While returning items in-store is offered as a free return by many retailers, there are often hidden disincentives. Store managers can be reluctant to accept online returns in-store as the refund comes off the store total, distancing them from their targets.


Ensuring the customer experience is maintained throughout the journey and the customer isn’t punished for making a return is essential for building the customer loyalty that will ensure you recover the value of a return in multiple future sales.

3. Convenience

The central design to any returns strategy should be to build it around the customer. MetaPack research also shows 81% of consumers would shop more with a retailer who makes returns easier, so there’s significant upside from getting it right.


Stepping into the customer’s shoes to design the journey should be the first step for every retailer. Standing in a customer’s shoes, you may not have access to a printer to print returns slips, which is why we designed a paper-less returns service.


Equally, if you’ve ripped off the packaging on your purchase in a moment of child-like enthusiasm when it arrived, you may no longer have the original packaging or the time to make an extra trip to acquire some. Providing packaging for customers if they have their item without the wrapping is a way to make life easier for the consumer and also removes barriers to make a return faster. All the retailers we speak to are on a constant mission to reduce the length of the return cycle, so including steps in the process that slow a customer down are counter-intuitive.


Giving customers choice over where they return their items is also key to helping them return items quicker. Let them choose what suits them best. Sometimes that might be coming back into your own store and there is research to indicate that customers make more purchases on returning items to store than they do collecting.


On the flipside, forcing all customers down this path overlooks that it may not be easy for a customer to pop into your store and so a range of drop off points are important for expanding the coverage of your available returns locations and helping customers to return those items to you quicker.


It’s for this reason that we put changing rooms into a number of our stores. Customers were able to collect purchases and try them on, returning on the spot if it didn’t suit them. That means in some cases the item was out of the DC for less than 24 hours.


After all, in a multichannel world, the opportunity for personalised offers shouldn’t just exist back in store…

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