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Online returns report shows major variations in customer service standards

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The fourth annual Snow Valley 2009 Online Returns & Refunds Report has found that, unlike online deliveries which have been improving across the board, not all retailers are providing a sufficiently good service when it comes to handling refunds and returns.

“Clothing retailers make it as easy as possible to return unwanted goods,” says Snow Valley’s Sarah Clelland. “Electrical goods retailers are at the other extreme, making it very difficult.”

In August 2008, Snow Valley placed orders with 99 online retailers and then returned each order — some by post, some by courier, some to a store — and the report sets out the results of how those returns were handled:

The good (from the customer’s perspective):

  • 45% of retailers covered the cost of the return — this was an increase on 2007

  • 8% covered the return cost and refunded the original delivery charge

  • 90% of refunds were made successfully without needing to be followed up

The bad:

  • 26% of retailers did not enclose any returns instructions with the package

  • Only 60% of retailers with a store network allowed the goods to be returned to a shop

  • 55% of retailers gave no choice about how the goods could be returned

The ugly:

  • Five retailers made it absolutely impossible for the researchers to return the goods

  • All five sold electrical goods and all five were on the Hitwise Top Shops list

  • Two of the researchers’ attempts to return the goods to a store failed

“One of the trends we noted is that more retailers are sending couriers to pick up unwanted goods,” Clelland adds on her blog, The Snow Patrol:

I’m not a fan of this personally — it’s one thing to wait in for a delivery, but waiting in for a courier to collect something you don’t want is very tedious indeed.

I was interested to see that the Shop Direct Group — which includes Littlewoods, Kays and various other direct brands — has started using the Drop & Collect service. Customers can take their unwanted goods back to a participating corner shop. The benefit is that they’re open later than the post office and there are more of them. There are also less queues presumably.

It will be interesting to see how many other direct retailers use this service. Our report also shows an increase in the number of high street retailers that can support in-store returns — if customers want to be able to return to a physical location then this could be an important option for direct retailers to stay competitive.

Readers can download the full Snow Valley 2009 Online Returns & Refunds Report from the company’s website.

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