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E-Commerce Marketers: Surviving Post-Holiday Returns

By Dan Baum

E-Commerce Marketers: Surviving Post-Holiday Returns

It’s that post-holiday season, which means everyone is still on their New Year’s resolution high and focused on starting 2019 off right.

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It also means that a lot of consumers are looking to offload some of those gifts that might not fit just right, or simply missed the mark.

The downside for retailers after a great holiday season is a steady flow of returns. In fact, retail returns overall are expected to boom in the next year, skyrocketing to $550 billion by 2020.

That’s an increase of over 75% from the last 4 years.

The biggest cause for the increase? E-commerce and online purchases.

E-commerce returns alone almost doubled between 2012 and 2017, and on January 3rd alone, UPS processed 1.3 million return packages.

It’s Time to Make Returns Easier

Higher return rates effectively crush the bottom line margins of retailers over the holidays, but consumers are expecting more and more lenient return policies as the shift to E-Commerce grows.

In fact, many consumers knowingly purchase more than they need with the peace of mind that they can always return what they don’t use. Companies like Amazon have leveraged this mindset for years, bolstering customer loyalty with programs like Amazon Prime and Amazon Local.

That loyalty has proven to be worth the massive expense that Amazon pays in return-associated costs, and Forbes projects Amazon’s price per share to double in 2019.

In response to this trend, marketers need to ensure customers have a streamlined and seamless return experience. This could mean an interactive page on your site walking customers through the process, easily printable shipping labels, and a clear policy on when returns are accepted.

Amazon, for example, lets customers drop off packages at physical locations or lockers - wherever it’s convenient for them.

To be clear, Amazon is not encouraging people to make returns. They just do a great job at making it a simple process for their customers.

A good way to reduce the cost of returns is to incentivize customers to combine multiple shipments into one, when the nature of the purchase allows. Regardless of weight concerns, shipping one package is cheaper than paying for two.

Integrate Online & Offline Experiences

When it comes to returns, your online and offline experiences should work together seamlessly.

Easier said than done, I know.

If someone purchased something in the store (brick and mortar), it can be hard to initiate a return online, creating unnecessary friction for the buyer. This is especially important for purchases that were given as gifts where the recipient is unfamiliar with the physical location of the store, or when there is no receipt (either digital or physical).

But working towards improving the different experiences customers have online versus offline creates a much more valuable, unified vision of your brand.

One common issue many E-Commerce stores with physical locations have is discrepancies on promotions. Sometimes a site will encourage online purchases with an “online only” offer that customers might try to redeem in store. Make sure these differences are clear so that you can cut down on refunds/exchanges now that your holiday sales have ended.  

Customer Experience Improves Retention

Your consumers will remember bad experiences for much longer than their good ones, so make returns one area where customers are less likely to complain. A solid return policy can improve your bottom line, too.

According to Avionos’ 2018 report on consumer expectations, 53% of people are more likely to purchase and feel more confident making a purchase from an E-Commerce store. Given this data, offering the convenience of an easy return experience is a far lower cost than having your customers shop elsewhere.

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Published on January 9, 2019

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