Covid has slammed the e-commerce gas pedal, drawing throngs of new consumers into the world of digital retail while much of brick and mortar had little choice but to shut down as the coronavirus pandemic ripped through the U.S. While online shopping undoubtedly propped up the discretionary retail sector while the viral outbreak did its worst, retailers can expect to contend with a tsunami of returns in the weeks and months ahead when many of those purchases end up getting returned to sender.
And how merchants manage returns has serious implications for customer retention and loyalty.
According to research from e-commerce delivery and returns experience provider Doddle, 84 percent of nearly 1,400 consumers polled in May said a customer-friendly returns policy will encourage them to purchase again—which is likely a factor in why Amazon’s generosity and customer-centricity have won it legions of loyal Prime shoppers. On the other hand, nearly three-quarters find retailers’ send-back policies wanting, with 74 percent indicating there’s significant room for improvement in this area of the online shopping experience.
So what exactly would make returning a product more palatable? While 60 percent flat out don’t want to pay return shipping fees, 45 percent are looking for a convenient returns drop-off depot and 44 percent expressed interest in packaging that can be reused and resealed—a nod to growing consumer consciousness around sustainability and waste. Two-fifths of consumers feel like they’re sending their return into a virtual black hole once they’ve dropped their package into the post; 41 percent yearn for greater visibility and communication throughout the process, looking for confirmation of when the item is back in the merchant’s hands, for example.
Consumers don’t want to wait indefinitely to be refunded for their return, as 38 percent would like to get their money back as soon as their package hits the postal system. And as fewer consumers own a printer or have easy access to one, 33 percent aren’t interested in having to print off their own label in order to get their return in the mail.
Many e-commerce returns experiences have been cobbled together out of necessity, viewed as a cost center and simply a cost of doing business online. According to Doddle, they offer suffer from a lack of digitization—which will not cut the mustard in today’s convenience-first world.
“This insight is now more critical than ever, as COVID-19 has generated a significant bump in e-commerce sales, with e-commerce returns only expecting to increase as well as a result,” said Doddle North America CEO Dan Nevin. “Between the impending surge in returns, consumers’ experiences with the process and the overall impact on satisfaction and retention, the timing has never been better for retailers to get a solid handle on their e-commerce returns processes and systems.”