International sales – newbie or seasoned pro?
Returns are a tricky issue for retailers. You want your customers to feel comfortable placing an order with you, and a solid and generous returns policy gives them confidence to go ahead with their purchase.
But returns are costly; in 2014 US consumers returned around $284 billion worth of merchandise, with the value of between 25-50% of that unrecoverable, according to logistics firm Optoro.
While the average rate of returns for goods sold during the year is around 10% that rate surges to around 25% during the festive period.
Even customers don’t want to return things – it’s a hassle after all – so how do you minimise the risk that a product gets sent back? If you follow the tips below you’ll find that as well as reducing the risk of returns you’ll also give your customers a better buying experience in the first place.
Give clear product descriptions and images
Aim to provide the maximum possible detail, in a way that is easily consumed. This actually has two benefits.
Firstly, the more information a potential customer has about a product, the easier it will be for them to decide to buy it, as more of their objections will be countered and their concerns put at ease.
Secondly, when customers know what they’re getting, there’s less that can go wrong once they receive it. 22% of returns to online businesses are due to a discrepancy between the real life product and its online listing.
If possible, use detailed product images and consider using the kind of advanced listings that allow zoomable images or even 3D views of the product for even better browsing.
Provide customer feedback and reviews
Customer reviews provide you with an authoritative and unbiased account of your product. They can be useful for minimising returns because they often give first-hand accounts of use that your product description doesn’t, or can’t. Potential customers browsing your product listings are bound to find the answers to some of their questions in the reviews section.
Additionally, reviews allow you to collect data on what customers liked or didn’t like in order to improve your products and therefore reduce the chance that they don’t meet the standards of the people buying them.
Offer free return shipping
This might seem counter-intuitive at first glance; isn’t offering free returns going to make people more likely to send things back?
However, it has been found that offering free return shipping incentivises customers to buy. As we mentioned in the intro, knowing that they can easily send back an item they don’t like or that has an issue can reduce the list of reasons a customer has for not buying. Providing free returns can be costly, but this can be counteracted by the additional sales it generates.
Not having to pay for returns also sits well with customers, which means you have a better chance of retaining their business in the long-term.
How returns can actually result in more business
Customer returns may not be desirable, but they are a fact of business. Like much of the negative aspects of online selling, anticipation and effective planning play a huge role in minimising the cost in terms of finances and resources.
Get returns right and you can not only shrink the costs to your business, you can also retain customers that would otherwise go elsewhere. Data from Endicia collected in 2013 found that 64% of customers would actually recommend a business after experiencing a free or easy returns process.
So, while returns may be unwanted, resolving them quickly and fairly can benefit both your customer and your business.