what is the best way to manage order return flows?

Returns are a headache for online sellers and customers. According to our survey, 33% of French electronics consumers consider returns to be a nest of problems. For surveyed e-shoppers, a return policy should cover the cost (70%), provide a return label (74%), and information on when to refund (58%). In France, more than 80% of e-consumers say they shop more often from sites that pay the full cost of product returns; 77% of them will only place an order if e-retailers offer a quick and easy way to return their products.

Implementing an effective return policy therefore improves customer satisfaction and spends less time dealing with these sometimes complicated and often expensive requests. Without a clear and visible return policy on their website, e-merchants are at risk of losing potential customers. What elements should therefore be considered for a complete return policy?

(almost) free returns

It’s no surprise that consumers prefer free returns. They prefer that the seller assumes the costs and logistics. Up to 83% of consumers will not place an order if they have to pay the full cost of the return. However, processing returns comes at a significant cost: a return costs an average of €12.50. Some sellers thus seek to educate their customers, as is the case of the clothing brand H&M, which invites its customers to pay a symbolic value of €0.99 per return.

An easy return process

The easier the better. The logistical and administrative complexity of returning parcels is an obstacle for many. Providing a pre-printed and completed return label could therefore facilitate this process. Nearly 74% of consumers prefer to receive a ready-made return label. For sellers, this can be done by directly partnering with a carrier or partner to provide a standard return label with the shipment. This is beneficial for the consumer, but not for the environment. Thus, it is now possible to integrate an automatic process through an online return portal. Consumers indicate with a click that they wish to return an item, then print a label or go to the carrier to return the shipment, in which case they print a label on the spot. Paperless return shipping is the future.

return options flexible

It’s quite annoying when a product doesn’t meet the customer’s expectations and is therefore returned. To make this process as easy as possible for all customers, a wide range of return options is not an unnecessary luxury. While the majority (52%) would like to deliver a return to a collection point, a quarter (27%) would like the return to be collected directly from them.

A longer payback period

Many online sellers have extended the return period during the pandemic and lockdowns. Most e-shoppers appreciate this extra time, and while European legislation only provides for a 14-day return period, more than a third (38%) of consumers do not order from stores with a return period of less than 30 days. While it may seem counterintuitive, surprisingly a longer return period leads to fewer returns because consumers cling to the products they purchased or simply forget to return them.

a quick refund

Consumers are prepared to wait a maximum of 6 days before refunding their products. This is much shorter than the statutory period of 14 days after receiving a return notification. An immediate refund not only increases customer satisfaction but also increases the likelihood of a new purchase as the customer will have the money available sooner for a new order. Surprisingly, Millennials (those born after the year 2000) most often choose to return a package by taking it to a physical store. One of the reasons for this is that they prefer to receive their refund immediately.

Alternative refund options

EU law on online returns states that refunds can take up to 14 days after receiving a return notification. However, 58% of consumers want to know for sure when they can expect a refund before making a new purchase. So, in addition to refund options, it may be worth offering customers additional refund options, such as directly offering a voucher as a “fast track” upon receipt of the return.

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