This article is an excerpt from our guide for ecommerce retailers: eCommerce Returns 101. The guide goes through every stage of the return process from policy to process, as well as how to communicate with customers about their returns, and how to make returns work for you. Download your copy for free here.
To maximise the value of offering returns as an ecommerce retailer, you need to build them into your overall customer lifecycle. One of the most important tools to do just that is returns communications. Consumers engage with returns in a very similar way to deliveries – they want to be updated and informed about the status of their purchase or return, to know when it will arrive/when they will receive a refund, and will actively check this information at a much higher rate than most of your other communications with them.
All of that means that you need to be offering your customers all of the information they want about their returns through your communications channels. It’s not just updates though. Proactive communications can help to recover customers who might otherwise not come back and fix issues that you otherwise might never see. Let’s go through the customer lifecycle and look at the role returns communications can play.
Checking in post-purchase
After a customer completes an order and the delivery is done, are you sending any follow-up communications to check in on their order, their satisfaction and any feedback they have? If not, this can be a really powerful way to get instant feedback and insight into the post-purchase experience, which is crucial because these are the moments where customers decide whether they will be shopping with you again in future.
A simple branded email communication after the purchase has been delivered can ask them for reviews and general feedback, and remind them that you offer exchanges and returns. That might sound like you’re risking a higher return rate., but think of it this way: would you rather a customer was upset with something they bought from you, and that was their main association with your brand, or would you rather that you nudged them to exchange that item, so that they were converted back into a satisfied customer? Sure, you created an extra return – but always think about what that extra return buys you. In some cases, it’s going to be the difference between a customer being a high value, loyal shopper or a stranger who shops with you once, then never again.
Of course, this email isn’t just useful for returns. It also provides you with great insight straight from from your customer about what’s working and what isn’t.
Staying in touch during the return
Once a customer has initiated a return, providing them with clear communications of status updates and tracking data for their return is crucial. Think about how many of your customer service contacts relate to the status of returns and refunds – how many of those could you cut out completely with an automated email?
The challenge for retailers here is that unless you have a digital returns process, you can’t know when a return is happening until it’s arrived at your sorting center. Even here, though, it’s best practice to communicate to your customer that their return is with you now, and give them an estimated date for their refund to be released.
Number one priority: the money
Unsurprisingly, this is really at the root of most returns-related customer service contacts, and at the root of the customer experience around a return. Making it easy and comprehensible for a customer to get their money back is one of two underlying goals of a good returns process. (The other is getting the returned item processed as effectively as possible.)
So, as with the notifications as a return passes through different key stages, refunds are no different – except perhaps that you need to go above and beyond. When the customer books their return, they should have an idea of when they will be refunded, and at every stage of the process they should be kept up-to-date with any changes to that estimated date.
Closing the loop
Staying on top of your game is important, and doing that means you need to ask for feedback. If you’re using a digital returns platform, you can easily track the impact of making a return on customer loyalty and spend – but even when you’re doing that, you should also be soliciting direct feedback about the return experience. A simple star rating embedded in your returns journey or a quick link in an email to a review form is a great way to capture customer feedback and channel it towards making your returns process as good as it can possibly be.
Once your customer comms are perfectly linked up to your return journey and customers are getting a consistent and convenient experience, it’s time to figure out one of the biggest questions of all. How can we reduce returns without hurting the customer experience?
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