July 19, 2021

How to sharpen up your customer focus with returns feedback

Steve Jobs was desperate to make Apple focus on customers.

“Some people say, “Give the customers what they want.” But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do.”

That’s a classic Jobs quote you’re probably familiar with. How many retailers really take it to heart, though? Listening to what the customer wants is the very essence of what great retailers do – but what if there was a whole array of very direct customer feedback that they weren’t really using to its full effect?

What do returns have to do with customer focus?

It can be all too easy to overlook the returns journey as an opportunity for important data gathering, but when you think about the potential, it seems so obvious. There are a multitude of reasons why a customer might return an item. In isolation, they may feel meaningless. But what if a hundred customers returned the same item? A thousand? More? If you give those customers the chance to explain their decision to return, you could uncover important trends – misrepresentation on your website, perhaps? Erroneous sizing? Small, but consequential quality issues can be picked up here – if you’re using the right toolkit.

A massive reason for the under-utilization of returns data as a source of customer feedback and improvement is that retailers often simply lack the digital capabilities. They lack visibility, analytical capacity or often both.

A returns slip, hastily completed and shoved into the parcel simply isn’t an effective way to encourage this feedback or gather it. Customers frequently do not fill them out accurately. Warehouse employees processing returns may or may not have time to accurately transfer all of the information from the returns slip into an inventory management system.

Using a digital tool to process returns flips the process,, ensuring the customer feedback is captured at the point of the return decision. There is no physical paperwork, and the data can be assessed and acted upon before the return even arrives back in the warehouse.

Taking responsibility

A final challenge some retailers must overcome is the issue of ownership for returns. If responsibility for returns sits between multiple departments and there is insufficient co-ordination between them, it becomes impossible to drive improvements or build these vital capabilities. Traditionally, returns may have been treated simply as a cost center, reducing the appetite to invest in the customer experience and capture that useful data.  Defining clear ownership, whether of one individual, one team or across teams, will go a long way to making returns improvements possible.

That returns data can shape the business to become more customer-centric across departments.

  • Marketing: We have identified a segment that costs us more in return than they spend – can we adjust campaigns to exclude them?
  • Ecommerce: This range is being returned more than others because the photography is not clear.
  • Logistics: We have discovered an unacceptable lag between customer drop off and arrival at the warehouse. It’s impacting resale opportunities and time to refund.
  • Purchasing: Customers are flagging an inherent problem with a product.

All of these issues have financial repercussions, and can become much more easily visible and more easily addressed thanks to the customer feedback inherent in returns data.

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