What does a good ecommerce returns process look like?

Returns are a big issue for online retailers, and even more so in the run up to Christmas. In this season, returns are likely to be higher as a result of unwanted gifts. 

For retailers, it presents plenty of problems, but also an opportunity to provide an excellent customer experience.

A good returns policy has two benefits:

  • It drives sales by reassuring customers that they’ll have no hassle if they need to return goods for any reason.
  • If customers do not to return, an efficient process leaves the customer with a positive impression of the brand and makes it more likely they’ll buy again in future.

So what should retailers be doing? 

There’s a lot of information to get across on site, and this can become more important at this time of year, as customers buying gifts are more likely to need to know about returns.

Make policies easy to find

This information should be clearly accessible in a number of places, though it can be most effective on the pages where customers are making decisions about a purchase – namely the product and shopping basket pages.

Here, Schuh places returns and delivery information directly under the call to action. It’s easy to find here, and users can check this information quickly before they add items to their basket.

Schuh returns

Hassle-free returns

The easiest returns policy for customers to understand is one like this. Essentially, customers can return to store or head office, and they have 365 days to do so.

returns hassle

This is likely to be a calculated move from Schuh. There will be extra costs associated with such a policy, but it does have the benefit of providing clarity and reassurance for customers before they buy.

Adjust returns for the Christmas season

30 day returns is the general standard, but that doesn’t really work for the Christmas period, as many shoppers will begin buying gifts well in advance of December. People who are organised that is.

If a gift is unwanted, and many will be, it can take longer than the statutory period before the recipient is able to return the item.

Many retailers are still inflexible about this, but putting customers first here is the best policy. Retailers should think long-term and extend returns periods beyond the usual time limit.

Extended Christmas returns

Add returns information to emails

Providing clear information in post-purchase emails on returns means that customers don’t have to hunt around the site or call customer services if they need to return an item.

Email returns

Returns information on packaging

Including this in the packaging ensures that customers don’t need to work to hard to return items.

Here, ASOS includes a returns form in its packaging, along with mailing labels.

asos returns

Allow different returns options

Multichannel retailers should allow customers to return item to their local stores if they find it more convenient, while options like Collect+, where customers can hand in returns to local stores and petrol stations can take the hassle out of returns.

Littlewoods returns

Make it easy

Amazon is a great example. It makes returns very easy. Customers can head to the site, and Amazon will process refunds even before returns are received.

amazon returns

If you want to exchange an item, they’ll send out the replacement before they’ve received the original back.

This is not something every retailer can do, but the convenience and ease of return ensures that even those customers who didn’t find the right item have a positive impression of the retailer.

In summary

The ideal returns process is clear, easy to understand, and ensures that the customer doesn’t have to jump through hoops.

If you force them to ring call centres to find details, make them work hard to repackage and return goods, or make them wait ages for the refund to hit their bank account, you have a customer who is less likely to return to make another purchase.

By contrast, if you make it easy and convenient for them, then you have a customer who will have no concerns about buying from you again.

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