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What difference does having convenient return options make to customers buying online?

It is the ease and convenience of the entire online shopping experience that now gets reviewed and reported on by the consumer press – not just the products offered for sale. According to the IMRG Capgemini eRetail Sales Index , Britons spent £68bn shopping on the internet in 2011. And with these consumers now shopping across multiple devices (PC, mobile and tablet) whenever and wherever they want, expectations of the end-to-end service provided by retailers have never been higher.

However in reality there is still a lot to do to bring the ease found in the online shopping experience to the delivery and returns process. The ability to quickly and easily return unwanted items is becoming ever more important to consumers and today approximately 22% of goods purchased online are returned. However, many retailers are ignoring the fact that a poorly thought through returns strategy that fails to meet customer expectations may potentially limit future trade.

A YouGov survey in 2011 found that 58% of shoppers stopped trading with a retailer after a poor returns experience; with increasing choice and competition online, consumers will choose retailers who meet not only their product and delivery expectations, but also their needs from a returns perspective too. Traditionally the options for the return of goods bought remotely have been limited. For customers of pure-play retailers without a bricks and mortar presence, there are really only two options – return via the Post Office or arrange for a courier collection from their home.

However, both of these lack the ease and convenience that online consumers now expect. The Post Office’s opening hours are limited and the returned item may not be sent via tracked service – so lacking the reassurance for the customer that their item has been safely returned. A home collection on the other hand requires the customer to possibly take additional time off work to hand their item over: not the best experience if they also had to wait in for the delivery in the first place. It’s hardly surprising therefore that collection of returns from homes has a high first-time failure rate. With demand for more convenient return options coming from both retailers and consumers, the introduction of a service like Collect+, which combines long store opening hours, thousands of convenient local drop-off points and full online tracking has been transformational in creating an easier shopping experience from order through to return.

As a result, consumers have embraced returns services which fit in with their busy lives; Collect+ data shows that 40% of returns are dropped into store outside of traditional Post Office opening hours with weekends, and bank holidays increasingly popular. Returns are also even seen on Christmas Day. Customers are also expecting their returns and refunds to be processed faster than ever before, with refund times of up to 21 days now being seen as detrimental to the shopping experience. While potentially counter-intuitive, an easier and quicker returns process actually frees up customer funds to spend again and allows fast selling lines to be put back on sale quickly. Customers reward these improvements with increased loyalty – research amongst Collect+ clients has shown that users are more likely to spend more and more likely to return to the brand season on season. And in a client survey of 4500 customers, over two thirds stated that a convenient and local returns service such as Collect+ made them more likely to shop with the retailer.

Matthew Jacques,

client development director, Collect+

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