Flipping your retail returns problem


I loved the recent announcement about Amazon Prime Wardrobe. It was a lightbulb moment for me. I clearly recognised myself as the consumer they were targeting. And that’s when I realised why so many retailers get it wrong when looking at returns.

Amazon have used genuine insight to understand and embrace the consumer’s motivations for returning goods rather than trying to minimise the retailer’s problem of a lost sale.

Almost half of all shoppers returned an online purchase in the last year.

Narvar – Making returns a competitive advantage, 2017

40% always intend to return some of their purchases – a practice sometimes referred to as ‘bracketing’. Interestingly, this behaviour is most common in the under 30’s (45%) and high earners (48%).

Returns, serial returners, bracketing – whatever you want to call it – most retailers see returns as a failed sale. The customer wanted and purchased the goods, didn’t like them and sent them back. But the research shows that many customers (myself included), don’t see it this way.

In my mind, I never really made the purchase in the first place. Yes, money left my bank account but it was like handing over a deposit on the way into the changing room. Just the price I had to pay to try something on. If I like it, I keep it and the money is gone. If not I return it and get a refund within a week or two. Retailers have made online shopping and returns so easy we’re now spending £1bn per week online according to the ONS. Collect+, Doddle, free returns, post offices being more efficient and open longer, mobile optimisation, introductory offers – all these things have been strong contributors in turning my hatred for online shopping into an absolute preference in just a few short years. Brands I’d never heard of have become firm favourites because of it!

But just as I wouldn’t part with my cash to try on something in a store, I’m a bit miffed about having to pay up before trying it on when I’m shopping online. So, I use my credit card. Smooths my cash flow (who cares if it’s nearly payday or not!) and generally, any returns refunds are back before my card payment is due. If I decide to keep any of my purchases, it’s ok as I don’t have to fork out here and now. I don’t see it as a real purchase because I just want to try things on, and by deferring payment I don’t have to pay for it until I decide I want it.

In a recent interview, Andreas Antrup from Zalando talks about customers being out of pocket as a significant barrier to adopting ecommerce. A barrier that innovation and flexible payments are helping them conquer. It’s just becoming smart business and a great selling point for customers. 50% of the UK’s top retailers already offer some form of credit. The difference with the new breed of solutions is the technology within that truly enhances rather than detracts from the customer experience.

Customer-centric retailers like Amazon recognise that people just want to try things on. A return isn’t a failed purchase, it’s the online equivalent of a trip to the changing room. Flipping things around and looking at returns through the perspective of the consumer also shows a clear opportunity for retailers to ensure consumers aren’t out of pocket for ecommerce purchases. Not everyone has the might and scale of Amazon, but a technology-driven retailer-branded credit card is a great option that’s now within the reach of many more retailers.

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