There's a lot to consider about how reverse logistics impact the bottom line in the evolving e-commerce economy.
Although the logistics burden of higher rates of e-commerce returns is not the happiest picture, the truth is that returns are neither a necessary evil nor indication of customer dissatisfaction. While that doesn't change the cost impact to your business, there are ways you can embrace returns and use them as a positive contact point in the customer journey.
Returns are a critical element of a new online sales cycle that is seeing shoppers employing a "buy and try" approach to acquiring the products they want and expecting sellers to fully enable their behavior. So far, online sellers have been happy to oblige in the rush to satisfy online shoppers. But they've done so at great cost. Now you're looking for answers to better managing that cost.
What sellers can do right now is shape their returns policy and process to optimize the customer experience and maximize buyer satisfaction.
The evolving shopper side of the returns process demands a seamless, simple consumer experience that engenders trust and grows the seller/consumer relationship. In order to leverage this opportunity, sellers must recognize and effectively respond to the preferences and perceptions that drive consumer behavior when it comes to returning purchases.
Inmar recently surveyed 800 shoppers about their online shopping and return behaviors, and the evidence speaking to the need for a customer-centric return policy is unmistakable. Close to three-quarters (74%) of the shoppers surveyed by Inmar reported that they check the seller's returns policy before making an online purchase. At the same time, 72% say their experience returning an item makes a difference in whether or not they buy again from that seller.
New purchase practices. Increasing returns.
As e-commerce sales grow, so grow returns. A full two-thirds of the shoppers surveyed by Inmar reported making at least one online purchase per month last year; just under 43% said they made "multiple" purchases online each month.
As a consequence, almost 60% of these shoppers made a return during the 12 months leading up to the survey. Among those shoppers who made a return, roughly 61% made more than one return and close to 20% made five or more returns over the course of last year.
However, it's not simply that shoppers are making more purchases that's driving increased returns volume. Much of the returns growth is due to shoppers purchasing more than one of the same or similar items with the intention of keeping one and returning the others. Close to 75% of the online shoppers surveyed by Inmar admitted to taking this approach in order to ensure they got the correct fit, color, etc.
75 percent of shoppers admitted to purchasing more than one of the same or similar items with the intention of keeping one and returning the others in order to ensure they got the correct fit, color, etc.
Changing preferences. Greater opportunities.
When it comes to making returns, most shoppers want to do so in-store; overall, 77% of surveyed shoppers cited this as their preference. This sentiment was expressed consistently across genders and all age groups with very large majorities among GenXers (83%) and Baby Boomers (81%).
The proportion of Millennials preferring to return in-store was lower, but still relatively high, at 68%.
Besides meeting consumer demand, enabling in-store returns of online purchases drives store traffic and presents sellers with the opportunity to immediately recapture shoppers' initial expenditures.
84% of Inmar survey participants reported they have stayed in the store when they returned an item and shopped with their refund money. And 26 percent said they spend more than the cost of the return when they shop immediately after returning an item!
As to why shoppers prefer to make returns in-store, convenience and immediacy quickly surface as the top drivers. Almost 60% of shoppers surveyed said returning in-store was more convenient while
50% said they made the trip to get their refund or store credit immediately. At the same time, 46% responded that they prefer to return in-store because it's a hassle to pack purchases for return shipping.
84% of shoppers have stayed in the store when they returned an item and shopped with their refund money.
Immediate demands. Effective responses.
To ensure the best outcomes for all parties, sellers must provide omnichannel return options that fit their business model while encouraging shoppers to return purchases how and where it's best for the balance sheet. And targeted consumer promotions can do just that.
Among survey respondents, more than two-thirds (68%) of those who bought online from a retailer with a store nearby said they would be willing to ship the return in exchange for a coupon or discount on a future purchase. An equally healthy proportion of survey participants (72%) agreed they'd be willing to take an online purchase to a nearby store in exchange for a coupon or discount on a future purchase.
Shoppers aren't making it easy on sellers when it comes to returns. But sellers who recognize the opportunity available in embracing online return behaviors, and take advantage of the influential tools available, can make things much, much easier on themselves.
72 percent of those who prefer to ship online returns said they're willing to return in a store in exchange for a coupon or future discount.
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