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Most Shoppers Think Twice About Your Return Policy Before Deciding to Buy

How well brands manage returns can make or break the customer experience.

Smart returns platform Returnly released its first consumer behavior study on Wednesday, focusing on shoppers’ behaviors at the point of product returns.

Surveying 4 million shoppers from across the U.S. who shopped at some of the country’s fastest-growing DTC e-commerce sites, Returnly found that 80 percent of consumers give some consideration to what it would be like to make a return before buying—and 73 percent won’t make a repeat purchase from a brand after a poor experience.

“Our goal is to give direct-to-consumer brands insights on what modern shoppers expect when returning and exchanging products online,” Returnly founder and CEO Eduardo Vilar said. “Our return personas give brands a blueprint to offer memorable return experiences that turn first-time returners into loyalists.”

The “2020 State of Report” underscored the importance of returns in earning a customer’s loyalty, saving sales and even boosting spend, analysts said.

Female shoppers are 1.5 times more likely to return goods than men, and to take action more quickly. One-quarter (25 percent) of women initiate the return process one day after receiving an order, compared with 22 percent of men. Both groups are likely to make a return within two or three days from when a product was delivered.

Notably, more than half (56 percent) of shoppers use their mobile devices to start their online returns, but almost three-quarters (72 percent) of consumers use desktop computers when initiating returns on products valued at $300 or more. This suggests a wariness of the mobile return process when it comes to high-priced items, analysts said.

Shoppers are also vexed by slow refunds on their returns—more so than any other frequently occurring issue throughout the return process. “Where is my refund?” ranks as the top support contact request after a return is initiated.

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According to the survey, 10 percent of the average brand’s customer base is made up of “loyalist” returners who buy frequently and return often. While a relative rarity, this type of shopper accounts for 39 percent of the average brand’s revenue, as they return undamaged merchandise in a timely fashion, allowing brands to restock and remarket items at full price.

While many retailers perpetuate the myth that National Returns Day happens on Jan. 2 each year, the study found the most popular day for returns to be Dec. 26—the day after Christmas. The most popular time to initiate a return is between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m., analysts said, questioning whether access to office equipment to print out labels might account for this trend.

“Our data shows that today’s shoppers are not returning on Jan. 2, they are simply shipping back their unwanted gifts on that date. The moment of truth for returns is December 26, when shoppers start returns online,” Returnly founder and CEO Eduardo Vilar said.

“This is when brands have the opportunity to get the right item in a shopper’s hands before they even drop off their unwanted packages in early January,” he added. “Brands planning their return strategy around Jan. 2 have missed the mark to connect with customers in their moment of need.”