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e-Commerce Industry News

April 24, 2017
Easy returns boost omnichannel customer loyalty
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April 24, 2017
Truly loyal customers, ones who will return to an omnichannel retailer over the course of months and years, are such a company's true source of value. Capturing these shoppers means being competent at every step of a buyer's journey. Even one botched interaction can damage the bond between an organization and its audience. This importance extends to processing returns and handling reverse logistics on the whole.

Reverse logistics excellence as a customer retention tool can seem like a strange match at first glance. If someone's returning a product, isn't that customer already lost? However, meeting or exceeding reverse logistics expectations can turn a loss into a win. When a return is handled professionally and quickly, it might be the beginning of a great customer relationship rather than the end.

Modern expectations
As the high-profile retail giants of the eCommerce age - Amazon and its ilk - have transformed the customer experience to be faster and more efficient, shoppers' views and standards have changed. Processes that are anything less than easy can be stumbling blocks for happiness and loyalty today, and this includes returns. Online is where the problems tend to reside, as in-store returns have been developed over hundreds of years. Pure eCommerce and omnichannel transactions are a battleground for companies hoping to improve satisfaction.
In-store or online, returns should be as easy as purchases. In-store or online, returns should be as easy as purchases.

A recent study carried out among Canadian eCommerce customers by Canada Post put it succinctly: "The gap between what consumers expect and what merchants are typically offering today is widest at the final stage of the purchase journey: returns"

The researchers asked shoppers what they are looking for when they shop. Respondents replied that they are interested in clarity about return policies before they buy - which items are returnable? How does the process work? Furthermore, policies should be simple and comprehensible. Finally, when a return actually does occur, the process should be as convenient and complication-free as described.

Canada Post noted a fourth priority: People don't want to pay for return shipping. This represents a huge gap between what companies are offering and what their shoppers want, as over 80 percent of respondent consumers stated businesses should pay the shipping costs on returns, while under 25 percent of retailers surveyed actually offer this service.

Omnichannel options
When companies have omnichannel operations instead of existing strictly online or in the brick-and-mortar world, they have a few extra ways to handle the return process, though these go along with additional demands, best practices and challenges. Chain Store Age, citing Alix Partners research, noted that when brick-and-mortar storefronts serve as hubs for reverse logistics, there are cost savings compared to a strictly online model.

The news provider added that when companies put such a plan into place, it must be accompanied by an appropriate level of planning and oversight. Failure to use personnel effectively or track items correctly could nullify the benefits of using retail locations. When firms have high-level logistics organizations joining the different parts of their networks, they can gain efficiency, becoming more varied in their capabilities.

Echoing the Canada Post study, Chain Store Age reiterated that people expect companies will take items back for free, whether they come into a store or mail them back. With a rise in volume tied to demands and expectations, keeping up capabilities is a major objective. In an era when brands are being seen as consistent entities that should have unified voices and operations, failure to live up to omnichannel expectations can be damaging.
When returns are as easy as purchases, eCommerce and omnichannel companies can meet customer expectations. When returns are as easy as purchases, eCommerce and omnichannel companies can meet customer expectations.

Only getting faster
Of course, having returns up to today's standards is only a prelude to what's coming next, in the highly automated world of next-generation eCommerce. Synchronicity Financial specified that in the coming era of driverless and drone-based shipping, companies will use these same hyper-fast methods for reverse logistics.

While that future may seem distant, the desire for progress in this regard is real. Synchronicity noted that 77 percent of consumers want better eCommerce return options. The report added that even today, consumer expectations about the retail process in general are on the rise, with each tech update bringing new standards.

The case for partnerships
Omnichannel retailers that find their current reverse logistics processes lacking, or are having trouble updating policies to meet expectations, can benefit from eCommerce fulfillment partnerships. Top providers today are as adept at processing returns as they are at managing warehouse resources and coordinating shipments.