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Boosting customer loyalty with a seamless returns process


Moritz Weisbrodt emphasises the importance of streamlined returns management in the fiercely competitive e-commerce industry, highlighting the significance of efficient communication and personalisation throughout the process.

25th Aug 2023

In a trend accelerated by the pandemic, online shopping has increased in popularity in recent years due to the convenience, wider product selection, and competitive pricing it offers. The e-commerce industry has become highly competitive as a result of this boom, with online retailers vying for customers’ attention in a crowded market. Customers are seeking convenience and flexibility, making returns a key area in which retailers can stand out and retain customer loyalty post purchase.

Many consumers now expect free returns that are fully trackable and result in almost instantaneous refunds. While this transformation can pose challenges for online retailers looking to maintain a competitive edge, it also presents opportunities for those prepared to meet customers’ heightened expectations. 

Meeting rising customer standards

This expectation has been driven up by the industry giants, whose economies of scale and deep pockets have created a new challenge for smaller online retailers. Returns cost companies £7bn last year, and smaller brands don’t necessarily have the resources to offer fast, free returns. The cost of return shipping, restocking and processing returns as well as refunds or exchanges adds up. Absorbing these costs can erode already narrow profit margins for smaller and medium-sized businesses.

Returns cost companies £7bn last year, and smaller brands don’t necessarily have the resources to offer fast, free returns.

The good news is that offering streamlined returns management is one of the most effective ways of ensuring long-term customer loyalty. While we can take measures to minimise them, returns are inevitable, and a return doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve lost a customer. If a customer has had a good experience returning a product, they may buy a different one, and even tell others about it. For those businesses willing to invest in their customer satisfaction, there are some simple steps you can take to perfect your returns process.

Making returns smooth sailing with automation

Modern logistics providers strategically combine automated workflows such as personalised email updates and automated refunds with a few manual tasks. You can maintain personal contact with your customers without investing time and energy in manual returns management. 

Providing a self-service portal is a simple way for your customers to register their own returns.

Automating the returns process makes it hassle free for your customers. Providing a self-service portal is a simple way for your customers to register their own returns without the need to contact customer service. Buyers can select either an exchange or a refund, and refunds can be automatically initiated without interruption, making the process as speedy and seamless for your customers as possible. Integrated shipment tracking allows retailers to communicate all relevant updates to your customers in real time, through easily automated and personalised email updates about the status of their return, such as when it has been received and when their refund will be processed.

Having a comprehensive returns portal also allows customers to generate their own returns slips and specify the reason for their return with just a few clicks. Modern fulfilment providers transfer this information about the returns directly from the warehouse to the operating system, clearly recording and classifying it. This removes the need for team members to laboriously collect and analyse this data, and instantly enables business to understand the reasons for returns and nip them in the bud. For example, if a particular shirt is repeatedly being returned and customers are reporting it is too large, the retailer can note on their website that the product runs large to prevent more returns. 

Communication is key

Inevitably, there are times when customers need to speak to a human, and communication is essential to retaining your customers. A recent study from Voxco found that there is a 74% chance of a repeat purchase when online retailers inform customers of estimated delivery times, clearly demonstrating the power of keeping your customers in the loop. The same goes for returns as customers may have questions about their return, so always be on hand throughout the process and answer questions promptly. Live chat is a popular option, alongside phone calls and email. 

Listening to your customers also means giving them as many options as possible to tailor the customer journey. Consider offering multiple delivery carriers during the returns process. This allows customers to choose the most convenient shipping option, which not only increases customer satisfaction but also speeds up returns processing, as customers naturally choose the closest and easiest parcel drop-off location. 

The bottom line is that a positive refund experience can make or break your brand. Rising customer expectations show no signs of slowing, and e-commerce businesses need an efficient and automatic system to handle returns. It pays to invest in your existing customers, and returns should be straightforward, cost-effective, and customer-oriented. For those businesses willing to invest in the logistics services and technology to achieve this, there is huge potential to build customer loyalty and spread the word about their brand. 

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