How retailers can drive loyalty with returns

A new survey reveals a positive returns experience can go a long way.
Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
Thirty-six percent of consumers want the convenience of at-home pickup when making a return.
Retailers should provide a positive returns experience.

A new survey reveals a positive returns experience can go a long way.

According to the survey of roughly 1,000 U.S. consumers from returns solution provider Optoro, about two in three (64%) respondents said they have purchased from one retailer over another purely because they had a better returns policy.  

Interestingly, survey data indicates that retailers’ biggest returners are often their best shoppers, with 65% of respondents making the most returns at the retailers where they shop the most or spend the most money. Almost half (48%) of respondents make a return every few months, and 22% make a return about once a month. 

The survey also reveals returns issues retailers can avoid to help establish good customer relationships:

  • Six in 10 (62%) respondents have made the decision not to repurchase from a retailer because they charge for return shipping.
  • More than four in 10 (44%) respondents care most about free shipping when making a return. 
  • More than one in three (35%) respondents struggle to find time to make returns, and 32% cite inconvenient returns options, such as not being close to a drop-off location, as the reason it takes them longer to make a return.
  • One in four (24%) respondents say their biggest frustration with returns is printing a label or finding packaging.

Returns abuse

The study also tracked the frequency of some abusive returns behaviors:

  • Close to four in 10 (37%) respondents admit to embellishing or exaggerating the reason for a return to avoid fees or receive a refund.
  • Respondents are most likely to participate in “bracketing”— purchasing an item in a variety of colors or sizes and then returning unwanted options — when shopping for apparel and accessories (35%). Almost half (48%) of respondents who admit to bracketing participate in this behavior a few times a year and 28% only bracket ahead of major life events, like a wedding or job interview. 
  • Three in 10 respondents admit to wardrobing, or buying an item for a specific event and returning it after use. Forty-three of those shoppers practice wardrobing a few times a year, while 23% conduct this behavior at least once a month. Respondents ages 18-29 are the most likely to “wardrobe” items (40%).

Other findings

  • Close to six in 10 (58%) respondents would waive their right to return an item at checkout for a discount on that purchase.
  • 45% of respondents have made at least one return to save money.
  • 27% of respondents are willing to pay under $5 for an item to be picked up from their house and returned on their behalf. Only 19% would pay up to $10.

[Read more: Consumers value easy returns]

“In a competitive shopping landscape, retailers that lack well-considered returns policies risk losing loyal shoppers to competitors with more appealing policies,” said Amena Ali, CEO of Optoro. "By understanding shoppers’ unique behaviors and preferences around returns, retailers can not only manage the cost of returns, but reframe returns from a cost center to a revenue driver, creating experiences that capture the hearts and wallets of shoppers. A focus on convenient, flexible options that speak to customer’ needs – while helping retailers control their total costs – will help set retailers apart.”

Findings are based on a survey of 1,042 U.S. consumers, ages 18 and older. 

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