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February 18, 2016

eCommerce Returns – The Most Important
Things to Consider

Author Chris Wilson
Category Blog | eCommerce |

Last time we looked at the common pitfalls that lead to eCommerce returns. Knowing about them will help you to serve displeased customers better. However, it doesn’t end there. There are a number factors to be considered when processing the returns or enabling your eCommerce website to support them. Remember that the underlying intention should be loud and clear from your side –
“We are here to help you, and make your overall shopping experience as smooth as possible”
When you consider brick-and-mortar stores, the return policy is pretty simple and neat –

  • You buy a product
  • If you don’t like it, you go to the store with your bill and get it returned (conditions apply)
  • You get the cash back or  a product of similar value

However, when it comes to eCommerce or online retail, the matter isn’t so simple, primarily because of the following reasons:

  • The geographic distance and non-personal interaction between the seller and the buyer
  • Trust issues commonly associated with online retail
  • Costs associated with returns (Logistics, Payment, etc.)

Because of these factors, the responsibility of the e-retailer gets magnified by a substantial degree when it comes to knowing what the customer wants.  So while eCommerce may be booming, the e-retailer needs to elevate the customer experience to keep the momentum going. Some of the burning questions that might crop up when handling the returns include:

  • What is the time period before which the product must be returned?
  • How do you manage the return shipping (both costs and logistics)?
  • Once the goods reach you where will you store it?
  • What is the customer expectation around the returns?

Today we will try to answer some of these questions in the context of customer servicing and its essential enablers.
Managing Returns

  • Duration – The period within which the product returns are supported is an important criterion for customers before making a purchase. Businesses must carefully evaluate the nature of the product, industry best practices, company’s internal policies, and customer expectations before arriving at this.
  • Costs & Logistics – There are many logistic challenges and costs (bank charges, labor, warehousing, and logistics) associated with returns – do you offer free returns or ask customers to bear the cost of the returns, do you partner with logistic firms for returns or let customers return through shipment provider of their choice (according to a research by, 86% of customers want a return label provided by the retailer), how to handle return requests through your eCommerce store or customer representatives, and more.
  • Cost Saving Innovation – Shipping and logistics giants like FedEx have found a middle ground between businesses providing free returns and customers bearing the cost of returns – that of a low-cost returns shipping. Their program known as Return Saver (in collaboration with the Clarus Marketing Group) helps customers return a product to any eCommerce store for free for a subscription fee of $49 a year.

What do you do with products returned?
Another important consideration for businesses accepting returns is what do they do with the product?

  • Should you resell the product as a new product?
  • Should you resell the product as a pre-owned/ open-box/ refurbished product?
  • Can you return the product to your supplier?
  • Where should you stock the product? And more

Managing Customer Expectations
The most important aspect of eCommerce returns is how the customer expectations and experience are managed. As Tom Caporaso, Clarus’ CEO sums it up beautifully, “95% of the customers become repeat customers, after a positive return experience”. The top considerations include

  • Does the customer know the return policy and the process?
  • If and when a customer returns a product, does the customer want money back or does he/ she need an exchange?
  • In case of an exchange, what if the product he/ she needs is not in stock?
  • In the case of a refund, who handles the bank charges?
  • Does the customer know how many days the refund processing takes place in? and more

eCommerce returns do not necessarily have to be a burden on businesses. There are multiple sales enhancing choices that returns offer as an ironic after-effect. Yes, that’s true. It has been proven that

  • Customers are more likely to suggest an eCommerce store to their network if they get a great returns experience
  • Customers are more likely to visit the site again once they’ve had a positive returns experience

So, there are definitely sales and engagement opportunities to be had when you provide customers a smooth sailing with their goods returns. Most of the considerations mentioned above are often part of a good return policy. In our next blog, we will discuss a few tips to help you draft an awesome return policy for your eCommerce store. Stay tuned!!

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