How Return Policies Can Keep Up with the Switch to Omnichannel

October 6, 2015

Guest blog_wiser

Wiser provides a complete suite of solutions to give retailers, brands and manufacturers the edge to stay competitive and most importantly, profitable. Thanks to full integration with WisePricer, merchants no longer need to look elsewhere for the tools and data they need to understand the competitive landscape and respond to markets — it’s all inside their ChannelAdvisor account.

 

Omnichannel commerce is becoming the norm in retail, and there are a few things that retailers can do to make sure that they’re keeping up with the times. We know that the prefix “omni” means “all,” but what does that mean for retailers? Simply put, retailers need to provide a seamless and consistent experience for their shoppers across all channels.

While this sounds like a great idea, it does present a number of challenges for retailers. One in particular is returns. Nearly one third (30%) of all products bought online are returned. Yes, that’s a lot — and yes, it’s a problem. But it’s the reality of the industry. When a shopper can’t try an item on or otherwise experience it, there are going to be a few returns for each handful of orders.

Zappos has a return policy that is often lauded by the retail industry. That’s because the company lets shoppers return items for free for a full year. This costs Zappos a pretty penny, but its customer loyalty is through the roof, so clearly it’s a worthwhile pursuit. It gets a little trickier when a retailer also has brick-and-mortar stores (because there’s more inventory to consider), but a strong inventory management strategy can make this a non-issue.

One practice that I’ve adopted as a consumer is generally buying only from multichannel retailers online. Multichannel refers to retailers that simply sell on multiple channels, online and brick-and-mortar in the case of my example. It’s so much easier to just pop into the store if an item didn’t work out, instead of worrying about shipping it back. It’s not just me. Shoppers want the easiest return option, and the retailers that provide it will win the sale. Regardless of what channels a retailer sells on, keeping returns simple is the best thing to do.

How Retailers Can Improve Return Policies

Multichannel returns are both a blessing and a curse. While offering more options makes life easier for shoppers, it also presents additional hurdles for retailers. For multichannel and pure-play online retailers, providing a return label needs to be standard. This will be a bit costly, but according to TrueShip, 66% of shoppers look at return policies. Since so many products bought online are returned, shoppers want to know where you stand in the event that their purchase doesn’t work out. Don’t suffer a sales slump because you aren’t catering to the 81% of shoppers that want returns to be easy and the 79% that want them to be free.

There are a few other options as well. Letting shoppers print out their own label is another solution. The point here is to make your policies very clear and even ask for feedback on what shoppers think of your return options. You want to know if a small change in your policy would get shoppers to buy more from you.

In-store returns could use an upgrade as well. One of my biggest pet peeves when returning items that I bought online is standing in long lines. If retailers are serious about selling online, they need to prioritize integrating that channel into their existing stores. Shoppers will buy on any channel that is convenient, so why not make in-store returns a bit easier? Having an online-only returns area makes sense for larger retailers.

Regardless of the approach an online retailer takes, the reality is that returns need to be overhauled, especially due to the increasingly omnichannel nature of the industry. There isn’t one return policy that works for all retailers — it’s something that needs to be determined on a case-by-case basis. By taking cues from the evolving return policies of major retailers and data from your customers, you can be on the road to improving sales.

 

Blog post by Angelica Valentine, content marketing manager, Wiser


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