Human beings are creatures of habit. We like routine and consistency, and we behave in similar patterns over time. In a time before the pandemic, you probably visited the same coffee shop or lunch spot multiple times a week, and you probably cycle through a handful of orders at those places. That’s also how people shop – we have distinctive preferences, but we repeat ourselves and form habits. That habitual nature allows retailers to group shoppers into segments or personas, which in turn help them to shape their marketing and acquisition efforts, as well as driving retention and loyalty.
Part of a customer’s desire to come back and shop again has to come from your returns proposition – the fallback for when something goes wrong, or when a shopper just isn’t sure about their purchase. Habits and shopper archetypes play a significant role here, too. Retailers should be figuring out their customer base and understanding how they fit into these online shopping personalities, so that they can maximise the value of their returns operation and generate maximum loyalty for minimum cost.
With that in mind, we’ve pulled together a few typical types of returner that you may find familiar, and some advice for delivering an ideal experience for them.
The Buy, Try, Return-er
These are the people who love to shop. They’re the types that will bring piles of clothes into the fitting room and then go back for more. Shopping is their recreation of choice, and if they can’t or don’t want to visit stores, as many of us haven’t in the last year, they are also devoted online shoppers. When buying online, their bedrooms become the fitting rooms and shop floors, spaces for them to test out products from fashion to homewares to beauty. As a result, they return a lot of products, but it’s important not to let this cloud your judgement entirely. Our research has shown that these customers, while picky, often transpire to be high-value and loyal, so they’re definitely not to be judged on volume of their returns alone. Klarna estimated that the top 10% of returners account for nearly half of all returns – but they spend about 3 times more than the average customer. Of course, whether that’s worth it for a specific retail business will depend on the cost of processing returns and the value of their orders. The point is returns have to be included in the bigger picture, not just treated separately.
The Play-It-Safe Shopper
You won’t be surprised to read that a lot of shoppers fall into this category. They like what they see, but either don’t trust their own judgement or the website’s depiction of a product to be accurate. They may prefer to buy multiples of products in different sizes and colours, just to be sure. While many consumers admit to this kind of shopping, it’s not a binary – very few will be doing this every time they make a purchase online. What it does mean is that they are more likely to find the right product in the end, which can improve their loyalty. However this type of behaviour is a symptom of a bigger issue: shoppers aren’t confident in a retailer’s site to let them select the right product at the first guess. If they were, there would never be a need to buy three variations and return two.
Certainly, some shoppers will just be risk averse, and prefer to buy multiple variations of a SKU, ‘just in case’. That said, a lot of this returns volume can be minimised at the source. Retailers need to be capturing returns data about which products are returned and why. That allows them to figure out where the specific, addressable challenges are. Then they can trial solutions, for example clearer product photography, or a sizing assistant, or more customer reviews on product pages to give shoppers more confidence.
The Mood Booster
Shopping makes us feel good and that’s a scientific fact. The very action of heading to your favourite online shop triggers the production of the super-fun reward chemical, dopamine. Mood Boosters love to shop purely on that basis – they get a kick out of browsing and trying on, luxuriating in the experience for maximum happy chemicals. However, having a good old browse, touch and try in the real world often doesn’t translate online, so they get their big buzz at the checkout and then enjoy the excitement of anticipation. The problem is, these are the shoppers that the term ‘buyer’s remorse’ was invented for and they are prone to returning items once the joy of the spree has worn off. After analysing their shopping habits, you might discover that they have a negative lifetime value – costing you more in shipping and processing than they ever spend. On this basis, it might be prudent to implement paid return shipping for these customers, or even go so far as removing them from campaigns and discount lists, as to not put temptation in their way.
These are the shoppers we’ve all been warned about. They will make purchases, use the goods they’ve purchased, then attempt to return them for a full refund. The most commonly wardrobed items are expensive clothes or accessories but it’s not unheard of in other categories, like consumer electronics. And while it’s obviously an issue, it’s important to be aware that it’s not the all-out catastrophe that it’s sometimes made out to be. The total number of returns that are fraudulent in this way is actually quite low. That said, having these highly desirable items hit an Instagram feed and then hit your returns processing center ultimately just costs you money – albeit in exchange for some amount of word-of-mouth promotion. In categories like apparel, the clock is ticking before the next big thing arrives, so time is of the essence if returned items are to make it back on sale.
Ultimately, wardrobing is a kind of returns fraud. The question for retailers is whether it’s happening enough to be worth doing something about – what does it cost, and what are the costs of addressing the problem? Giving legitimate customers hassle over their returns can be a very high price to pay to ensure nobody is wardrobing – beware the drive to completely eliminate fraud at all costs.
Stating clearly in return policies that wardrobing is unacceptable is a good first step without any risk to reasonable customers. Being able to discriminate between products which have been tried on versus actually used is challenging, but when shoppers are returning items for reasons other than faults, any signs of wear or use should be checked carefully. If this flags up an instance of fraudulent behaviour, retailers may wish to begin with a warning or a charge for shipping rather than immediately refusing the return. Customers who know their returns are actually being checked are unlikely to repeat offend, and this can do the job of reducing fraud without blacklisting customers – though this too is an option in worse cases.
To really work with these personas, you need data
You’ll notice that for all of our ‘returner personalities’, the best way to identify them is through data – whether that’s volume, frequency, turnaround or reasons for not keeping the items. If you don’t have this immediately to hand, it makes the task of working with these customers to reduce their need to return an altogether much harder endeavour. The swiftest way to access this information is through a digital returns platform that gives the customer an easy way to return, with great visibility and communication, whilst simultaneously giving you the real-time returns information you need to put rules in place to mitigate costs and understand the way your customers treat their purchases. Having the insight is the first step to making progress and turning returns into a loyalty-generating part of your overall offer to shoppers.
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