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Why You Don’t Need to Offer Free Returns

Michael Waters
February 1, 2022
Due to the ongoing supply chain constraints, returns will cost brands. To keep up, brands will need to formulate efficient return policies.

A big return rush will follow the 2021 holiday season. Due to the ongoing supply chain constraints, returns will cost brands more than they did last year.

According to CNBC, companies expect to see a 7% increase in the cost of returns this year.

Return rates across the board already rose 70% in 2020, according to the firm Narvar. That trend is tied directly to the growth of eCommerce: when online shoppers can't see a product in person, they are more likely to return it once they receive it.

According to the research firm CBRE, 30% of online store sales end in returns, compared to just 10% of sales from brick-and-mortar stores.

Online returns pose a particular challenge for brands. On the one hand, they want to keep their policies customer-friendly. While on the other, they have to make sure their policies don't break the bank.

Return rates are rising, leaving brands to formulate efficient return policies.

Why Does a Good Return Policy Matter?

Good eCommerce return policies that deliver great customer experiences translate into customer loyalty.

When customers know, in advance, that there's a friendly return policy, they're more likely to make online purchases. Not only that, but they're also more likely to make repeat purchase decisions with brands that let them return items they're unhappy with.

Fitness brands, in particular, should be thinking about how to strategize their return policies.

Fitness products are popular holiday purchases, but many of those new purchases will inevitably end in returns. 

Great Return Policy Examples: How to Ease Your Return Process

Brands don't necessarily need customer-centric policies to improve the return experience. Here's how they can write return policies that make sense and offer great functionality:

You Don't Need to Offer Free Returns

While free returns were once the standard among online businesses, more brands are moving away from that model. The customer returns platform Narvar said fewer of its clients offered more free returns in 2021 than in previous years.

That's not just because the cost of return shipping and restocking fees hurts brands, but customers prefer a simplified return experience over free returns.

Customers gravitate toward simple return policies. While no customer will complain about free return shipping, they also appreciate flexible return policies.

Set Customer Expectations and Spell Out What Can Be Returned

A good return policy will explain in detail which products are eligible to be returned—and how. A clear return policy should answer questions like:

Brands such as Nordstrom and Costco provide detailed return policies tailored to the customer.

Try Tiered Return Windows

For sportswear brands, products are highly seasonal, and the timing of a return can make a huge difference.

If customers return products quickly, brands could sell them again within a specific timeframe. If customers take too long, they could miss the season's window.

That's why apparel brands and online retailers have adopted tiered windows for customer returns. They reserve their most generous policies for customers who quickly send back orders, but they still allow customers to return products months later.

Saks Fifth Avenue, for instance, gives customers free returns if those returns are initiated within 14 days. If customers miss that 14-day window, they can still return their unwanted products, but each return will incur a $9.95 charge. 

Drop-off Product Returns

Mailing a product through the Post Office can be time-consuming, especially during and after the holidays. That's why many brands have embraced a drop-off return policy.

Apps like Happy Returns can connect eCommerce businesses with in-person drop-off sites (Return Bars) that will take their products and ship them back to the brand's warehouse.

Having customers drop off a product in person at a physical site saves eCommerce brands money on the cost of shipping. In turn, brands reward customers with: discounts, gift cards, store credit, or full refunds.

E-Commerce brands can partner with Happy Returns to make in-person drop-offs easier. (Image from Happy Returns)

Use Boxless Returns

If customers want to return a product quickly, finding a new shipping box and printing out a return label can be a hassle.

That's why many retailers and eCommerce stores are increasingly offering boxless returns, where customers can drop off products with partner shipping services without needing a box or a label.

Cole Haan, for instance, has a partnership with UPS - customers can drop off unboxed Cole Haan products at UPS locations. Happy Returns and FedEx have a similar partnership.

Brands have partnered with UPS to save time on the packaging, offering boxless returns to select UPS locations. (Image from UPS)

Simplify Customer Questions

Customer returns often come with a high volume of customer questions. Dramatically reduce your inbound call volume by quickly shifting callers to chat and self-service returns with Chatdesk Shift. Empower your team and answer customer requests faster with chat, Facebook Messenger, chatbots, self-service options, knowledge management tools, and visual IVR solutions.

Schedule a demo to see how Chatdesk can help brands handle returns and ease online shopping for both existing and potential customers!

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