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Return policies affect shopper behaviour


As the holiday season approaches, there is an expected decrease in sales compared to last year. In light of this, a new report explores the current challenges faced by both retailers and shoppers.

13th Nov 2023

With Black Friday and Christmas just around the corner, sales are predicted to be down compared to last year. In response to this, ZigZag Global and Shipup have teamed up to publish a research report. Based on a survey of 2,001 respondents, the report – The returns and post-purchase experience: What do UK consumers really want? – provides insights into the current challenges faced by retailers and shoppers.

Delivery dilemmas

The study reveals online shopping remains a priority for many consumers, with nearly two-thirds of shoppers making online purchases at least once weekly (61%). However, getting stuff delivered and returning items can be a real pain. According to the research, 93% of shoppers have experienced delivery issues, with 35% facing these problems regularly. Surprisingly, nearly half of the shoppers (43%) revealed that it is up to them to notify retailers of delivery delays.

It turns out that fast deliveries aren’t the only thing that matters to shoppers. An accurate delivery estimate is more important to 57% of shoppers than a quick delivery (43%). Plus, good communication during the delivery process is key. But here’s the thing: just a quarter of shoppers (25%) get updates from retailers about their deliveries. And, to make matters worse, 23% of them only hear from the carrier, not the retailer.

Getting it right the first time

The research shows how important it is to get the first delivery experience right, as it can affect how customers feel about a brand. Actually, 38% of shoppers said they wouldn’t buy from a retailer again if their delivery experience was bad, and 37% were unsure. But, retailers can win back unhappy customers by apologising and giving them a discount (54%). It’s also important for retailers to keep track of their deliveries - 80% of shoppers want to get updates, but 35% of customers find the updates confusing or not helpful.

Agop Ashjian, CEO of Shipup, says: “It is imperative that retailers improve their post-purchase offering, particularly around deliveries and communications. Our research indicates that retailers are lagging behind in this regard with a serious lack of proactivity and basic understanding of the customer’s needs. It’s clear customers want to be notified at each step of the way. 

Post-purchase communications have some of the highest click rates in retail marketing, yet it is continually overlooked by retailers.

“In addition to that, post-purchase communications have some of the highest click rates in retail marketing, yet it is continually overlooked by retailers. Done right, post-purchase communications have the ability to increase customer satisfaction and drive loyalty, not just at the delivery stage but through the customer journey. You now have a direct channel to an engaged customer - it’s an opportunity that retailers cannot miss out on in this challenging marketplace”. 

The importance of returns policies 

Returns policies can have a large impact on the purchasing behaviour of shoppers. According to the research, 84% of shoppers always check the returns policy before making a purchase, which is a substantial increase from last year’s 76%. On top of that, more than half of the shoppers (53%) decided not to purchase a product in the past due to unfavourable returns policies.

The research revealed several key elements of an ideal returns policy:

  • Free returns (preferred by 82% of shoppers).
  • Fast refunds (preferred by 72%).
  • Multiple return options (preferred by 46%).
  • Printerless returns (preferred by 42%).

The study also highlighted that one-third (35%) of shoppers are more likely to make a return due to the current cost-of-living crisis. While some retailers are introducing return charges to offset costs, 82% of shoppers still prefer free returns, yet 61% would continue to buy from a retailer even if they charged for returns.

Customers want choice and flexibility 

When it comes to the preferred methods of returning items purchased online, returning to a post office (58%), collecting from home (48%), and returning to a convenience store (40%) remain the top three choices. However, more shoppers are considering return-to-store (39%) and locker return (24%) options, stressing the importance of choice and flexibility.

Returns continue to be a contentious issue for retailers and shoppers alike, and is further exacerbated with the current cost-of-living crisis.

“Returns continue to be a contentious issue for retailers and shoppers alike, and is further exacerbated with the current cost-of-living crisis,” says Al Gerrie, CEO of ZigZag Global. “The situation is forcing consumers to make more considered purchases and that inevitably results in higher returns rates. In order to keep shoppers happy, particularly as paid returns become more prevalent, retailers need to provide more choice and convenience to the customer. 

“Retailers are also looking at other ways to ‘save the sale’ with returns. We are already seeing more retailers offering exchanges where possible and also incentivising return refunds to gift cards or for store credit - which is a win-win for both shoppers and retailers. The next 12 months is definitely going to be an interesting period as retailers look to juggle customer satisfaction and loyalty with increasing returns costs”.  

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