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GUEST COMMENT Are you talking the right language with international returns?

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It’s taken some time, but as an industry we’re slowly starting to appreciate the importance of offering a great returns experience to customers. As with delivery, convenience is the crucial factor for returns, and UK retailers are making great strides to ensure returning items is as painless an experience as possible. But what about international returns?

Facilitating returns from the other side of the world will always be more complex than domestic returns. Not only is it more expensive, but it also takes longer to have the item back in your warehouse in one piece. Then there are other things to think about, such as considering air vs land or shipping, the costs of warehousing in the country compared to shipping it back to the UK and then there’s accounting for what the convention is in the country, for example do people typically return to store or return to post office?

But perhaps the biggest headache of all is that it’s not uncommon for problems to simply get lost in translation during multi-leg journeys.

Major international carriers like DHL, UPS and FedEx will transport packages between most addresses worldwide using their extensive delivery network. But this isn’t an option for all countries, or all retailers. Many of the problems we see with international returns occur when parcels are passed from carrier to carrier, meaning tracking either becomes redundant or communication with the customer is poor as a result.

Keep up the communication

Asos states that for countries outside of Europe, it can take up to 21 days for items to be returned and potentially a further 10 days for money to be returned to a customer’s bank account. When we’re looking at these long lead times – the best part of a month – it’s not surprising that customers want to know what’s happening, both with their returned goods and with their money.

Customer contact rates are 15% higher for international orders vs domestic for this reason. Frequent update emails are the best way to mitigate this, alleviating the pressure that international queries can place on customer service teams. However, retailers should think about additional points in the parcel’s journey that could trigger a communication, which may not be necessary when on home soil. For example, an SMS update might be required to tell the customer that, ‘your order has landed at the airport’.

What are other retailers doing?

Other retailers such as River Island offer an international returns service which is “a special service [they] have arranged with [their] preferred courier partners to ensure safe, cost-effective returns” from around 10 international countries.

This is great, but the more you look around at what retailers’ returns procedures are, the more apparent it becomes that international delivery and returns are a long way from reaching a consistent industry standard.

In the UK, consumers are getting far savvier about the range of services that are available and what their rights are. But this gets more difficult when the situation moves overseas, with retailers themselves spending time understanding the regulations in the country as to when you have to collect or return payment to the customer. An education process across the board is needed and consistency is key.

For example, Bravissimo advise customers with the below: “Please note that we are unable to accept parcels that have been returned to us via a courier service, insured postal service or any other service that requires a signature upon receipt.”

This may surprise some consumers since many retailers stress that the item is the customer’s responsibility until it arrives back at the warehouse, so may assume a signature upon receipt is the best option. That’s why it would be so refreshing to see returns procedures standardised across the board sooner rather than later.

Be as clear as you can be

But while we still live in a world where every retailer seems to have their own international returns policy, it’s vital that Ts&Cs are easy to navigate on the website and specified clearly at the point of purchase.

Ideally, retailers need to facilitate the ability to print returns labels in the local language, or offer a returns portal that can be localised. While simple things like advising customers to mark items properly with ‘returned goods’ on the outside of the package to avoid customs duty, and ensuring they get proof of postage, can go a long way in keeping confusion at bay and customers on side.

Any other options available to me right now?

Yes. While there’s still far more to be done when it comes to international returns, fortunately, there are companies out there becoming wise to the industry’s plight and developing great solutions in response. One solution the industry has been getting excited about is ‘returns consolidation’. Businesses like ZigZag and Wnet have emerged to introduce third-party local returns for retailers looking to widen their reach abroad, while avoiding the prohibitively expensive upfront costs of doing the same thing themselves.

Retailers are increasingly replacing or supplementing the bricks and mortar in store shopping experience with speedy and convenient home delivery, where the customer can try and return if necessary. But with international trading, the ‘try it on at home’ experience is often the only opportunity a retailer has to connect with its international customer base, so it needs to be right.

Being able to return an item easily is a vital part of the customer journey. The closer we get to removing confusion by standardising returns policies the more rewarding the customer experience will be, and the more operationally effective it will be for the industry. Surely a win-win for all.

Andrew Hill is commercial director at Electio

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