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The holiday season means returns are just as likely as purchases


With the Black Friday weekend behind us, all retailers and parcel carriers are gearing up for what will be the biggest UK shopping period of the year. IMRG’s predictions of a 32% lift in spending may turn out to be true, and retailers will be preparing to get the parcels out of the door and to customers’ homes. However, it’s not only the delivery of items that brands have to prepare for, writes Matthew Robertson, commercial director of NetDespatch.

Matthew Robertson, NetDespatch

Matthew Robertson, NetDespatch

With new reports emerging suggesting that £160m of Black Friday stock will be sent back during the Christmas sales period, retailers have to make sure that their returns options are not only seamless but also widely communicated in order to cope with the amount of items being returned. That said, how many consumers are actually aware of the wide range of available returns options and what do they expect when returning an item back to the retailer?

Switched on Millennials

We have recently undertaken new research around this very subject and our ‘Many Happy Returns’ survey found that returns are becoming an increasingly important consideration for consumers. In fact with the current growth in online shopping, a retailer’s returns options may be having an impact on customer shopping habits and loyalty to particular shops. One of the key findings of the research highlighted that millennials are more clued up on the options available from retailers than any other age demographic. The returns habits of 16-24 year olds found that this age group is less likely to wait at home for a courier to collect a parcel, and 42% of students are buying from a retailer that offers easy returns. With a wide variety of options available on the market, such as returning your purchase by popping in to a local convenience store, to a parcel locker or train station, there are certainly more ways to return a parcel than simply waiting for a courier to arrive.

In contrast, 54% of over 65s preferred to wait at home for a parcel carrier to collect the item. Most noticeably, a staggering 78% of all respondents still use the Post Office to return goods, and only 8% of respondents had a parcel collected from work, with a mere 5% using a parcel locker. So why are varying age demographics approaching returns so differently? Ultimately, these statistics point to a lack of understanding about online returns options, when there are so many alternative returns methods out there for consumers to use and in our busy 24/7 lives could save us precious time.

This begs the question around the role that retailers play in educating consumers about the various options available? To this end, how do retailers influence consumers to use the returns method that is easier for the shopper, and saves the retailer time and money in the process?

Understanding cross-border perceptions

Another significant part of the research focused around cross-border returns. Now more than ever, consumers are buying more outside their respective countries, and with shopping sales like Black Friday and Cyber Monday which are now global events gathering more momentum, more and more consumers may be tempted to buy goods from other countries. Add to this the fact that buying goods from aboard is now easier with recent changes in EU law regarding the return of items to cross-border traders, and you can start to see how cross-border returns are now becoming an important issue.

However, 57% of our respondents said that they expected a cross-border service to differ from a domestic service, with over 35% expecting the service to be more expensive; this number soaring to 50% when looking at the responses from 16-24 year olds. These statistics clearly bring up many questions around whether as an industry we are educating consumers enough on the cross-border services offered by retailers and the prices attached to this, along with how long the process of getting a returned parcel from the consumer back to the warehouse will take. By taking questions like these in to account, this can help retailers and parcel carriers set realistic cross-border expectations for their consumers, especially in an age where demand for goods at a fast pace is high.

Demand for managed returns is growing

At NetDespatch we have a long history of working in the parcel delivery and logistics market and in particular we have an in-depth understanding of the UK returns market, demonstrated by the work we do with Collect+, Tesco, Royal Mail and Smiths News among others. What we have found recently is that we have seen increased interest from our customers around managed returns – whether that means allowing consumers to print return labels directly from retailers’ websites; make online requests for returns collections, or incredibly the visibility of the progress of the return from collect to its arrival back at the retailer.

The online retail market is only getting more competitive, and therefore retailers need to make sure they are making the most of every opportunity available to them and our research has highlighted a number of commercial reasons for making consumers more aware of the returns options available to them. Returns are an integral part of a consumer’s perception of a retailer; with 53% of respondents saying they expect to be refunded within 24-48 hours, and nearly a third of respondents stating that they would only purchase from retailers who have a free returns policy in place, the pressure on retailers to provide a premium returns service is increasing. Get it wrong, fail to deliver or make it difficult to return items and that can stop a consumer from buying from the retailer again. As online shopping continues to grow, so will the importance of returns and making sure that these are dealt with in an optimum way. If the returns process is seamless then this is one less aspect for retailers, parcel carrier and consumers to worry about in the impending run up to the biggest shopping weekend of the year.

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