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Post-festive returns frenzy can provide critical sales opportunity for retailers – and mobile has key role to play

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A recent survey of UK consumers by Qmatic, the market leader in customer journey management solutions, has revealed that there is an overwhelming preference among consumers to return unwanted gifts in-store, rather than through other channels – but technology needs to make this easy to do.

52% of those that identified a preferred method for returning gifts said that they would choose to do so at a manned returns desk in-store, but a mobile tools that request returns and to inform staff that they are in the store and ready to return goods.

Vanessa Walmsley, MD at Qmatic UK, explains: “We have firmly entered the age of the connected customer, always online. We must harness the opportunity of mobile to better connect our customers with the service they need. As we are entering a key time for returns after Christmas gifting we can create great customer experiences by enabling customers to request returns on their mobile and notify staff when they are in-store for service on arrival. This maximising their browse time, makes it a frictionless experience and increases their brand satisfaction. Retailers get a better view of customer demand in-store and can manage perceived waiting times whilst increasing sales opportunity. Staff feel more in control and able to provide a great service.”

And anything that can help make the in-store returns process frictionless is a sound investment. Rather than looking at returns as the downside of the Christmas boom, when goods come back and money goes back out the door, retailers need to look at how to convert these in-store visitors.

Walmsley continues: “Retailers have traditionally not been overly keen on the returns process, with all-important sales cancelled out and cash handed over for merchandise that may not even be in saleable condition. However, the preference for consumers to come into stores to return items offers retailers a valuable potential sales opportunity, turning the exchange or refund into a positive engagement with the customer.

“It is critical that retailers make the returns process as straightforward as possible for the customer. Many retailers, both online and brick-and-mortar, have built their reputations for excellent customer service, partly based on the ease of customers returning unwanted items. Creating a frictionless, seamless returns process may not only help retailers to increase customer satisfaction and brand loyalty, but may also enable them to convert these returns to sales.

“Each year, just after Christmas, the retail industry experiences National Returns Day, when shoppers flock to the high street to return unwanted presents. 29% of the consumers that we surveyed reported that they would return a gift on the first weekend after Christmas, and 27% on the first weekend after New Year, putting National Returns Day in early January. This will coincide with many retailers offering seasonal discounts for their January sales. If retailers can put in place frictionless returns processes and convert these returns to sales, then they can maximise profit in a month that, aside from the sales generated through heavy discounting, can be challenging for retailers.”

50% of respondents to the Qmatic survey identified long lines at tills as a reason that puts them off going to the shops over the festive period. Retailers must look to incorporate technology as part of their customer journey management strategy to overcome this challenge. This can include implementing virtual queue management solutions, self service return kiosks, mobile concierge staff, and Click & Collect solutions, where online orders can be collected, further helping to minimise queuing at tills.

If retailers want to create a frictionless returns process then they must ensure that the checkout process is smooth and efficient, so that potential shoppers are not put off from purchasing additional items at the same time as they complete their return. Uniting the returns and purchasing process is incredibly important.

Vanessa concluded: “At a time when the high street is under almost unprecedented strain, retailers cannot afford to let any sales opportunities slip through their fingers. This should include optimising the retail environment and the customer journey to maximise their potential of converting customers, who come in-store to return or exchange items, into a sale. Retailers who can perfect the returns process and make it part of the shopping experience may well see their brand loyalty and customer satisfaction increase, and a corresponding uptick in sales.”

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