February 12, 2020

Why your returns experience sucks

I’m man enough to admit that I’m a little picky about my clothes. I don’t take hours to try stuff on or spend whole afternoons in Nordstrom (no disrespect, Nordstrom); but I do want something I’m going to keep for years and be happy with.

Speaking of not spending all day shopping, like so many of us I also appreciate shopping from the comfort of my sofa. You’ve already read the title of this piece, so you can probably see where this is going. Here’s what it looks like.

I buy something, but after I’ve tried I don’t think it’s quite right for me. Then I get mad, because now I have to go through a decathlon of minor but ultimately irritating tasks to get my money back (in three weeks time from whenever I have completed my assignments). Howls of frustration are not uncommon in this process, which I think is really starting to worry my dog. 

The trials of returning

First, I’m back on the website and looking through the fine print. Wait, no, this is the wrong page. It’s under a drop-down – no, it’s in my account section. Also, what’s with having your returns policy in size 6 font? I don’t want to get an eye strain over this slightly-too-tight sweater, people.

So now I have to print a returns label, fill out a form and do an approximation of a kiddie arts-n-crafts piece with some tape and scissors to get the packaging back together. Maybe I could bring it back to a store next time I’m driving past, maybe I can’t because I bought it online, it’s not worth delving back into the fine print to find out.

Once I’ve posted my parcel, it’s in the void. There is no knowing where it has ended up, until I remember three weeks later that I might have to send a return like right now, frantically search my home to find the clumsily-taped package, remember I’ve already posted it aaaages ago, and then check my bank account to see if I have been refunded. Usually I haven’t, so I can either choose to wait it out and hope the money shows up, or call a customer service hotline and pray that the service rep will know more than I do about where my parcel went and when I might get my money back.

What will I remember about this purchase?

Perhaps it’s one of the cruel aspects of ecommerce. It’s so convenient and quick to shop online that when I get something I don’t want to keep, I spend probably 10 times as much energy to sort it out as I do being excited to buy something. I’m going to remember the more intense part of my experience – i.e. the frustration of the return and the frustration of the refund. Sorting out those touchpoints has to be a top priority if you want me to come back and shop with you again, because right now my top associations with the brand are “wasting my time” and “where’s my money”.

How to fix it

There are lessons in my misery for retailers. I wrote a few weeks ago about the importance of communication. That doesn’t just mean sending an email, it’s about the whole journey and how my options are communicated. It’s way better for me (and for the retailer) if I can exchange this ill-fitting sweater for something that I do want – so why am I not being encouraged in that direction by the website?

As a matter of fact, you know when I’ve received my items – so why not check in and see how it’s going? Proactive comms go a long way, and would probably make me get off my ass and sort the return out faster, which again is good for both of us.

That said, there’s no point being all talk and no trousers, as my British colleagues would say. I’d love to see retailers focus a bit more on making it easier for customers to return in stores, return without packages, or have a kind of reverse checkout where I can pick the items I want to un-buy (i.e. return) and where I will go to drop them.

One of the reasons it sucks not to have these is because I know it’s all possible. I would imagine a lot of customers have not experienced these tools and this much easier journey right now – although more and more retailers are adopting this practice. The danger for retailers is that they get left behind, not offering the digital returns that customers are used to from their competitors.

After all, if I can avoid the hassle of my usual returns procedure, I will. That means I’m shopping more with retailers who I know aren’t going to make my life harder. That might not be a stunning insight but it still amazes me how often this problem doesn’t seem to be solved for retailers. It doesn’t have to be hard – we have the technology, you already have the data, and we all want returns to be easier for everyone.

Learn more about returns technology – including paperless returns, returns portals and in-store returns.

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