Buy online and make returns to a store: the customer preference
Most retailers are familiar with “shopping bulimics” – the consumers who make purchases and promptly return their merchandise. Retail consultant Kurt Salmon told the Wall Street Journal in an article last year that one third of all Internet transactions result in returns. While this might not be the best-case scenario for retailers, some of whom lose millions a year on returns, it’s important to note that consumer behavior often dictates best practices for retailers.
Just as marketers will seek out many channels to connect with potential buyers, retailers are also embarking on omni-channel retailing to offer transaction options with the maximum number of consumers. Recent studies have shown that despite offering free shipping on returns, which has driven up online sales, retailers can leverage more pull with consumers who buy online and want to return their products in person to the physical store.
A report from Accenture called “Customer Desires Vs. Retailer Capabilities: Minding the Omni-Channel Commerce Gap,” outlines the preferences of retailers regarding their strategic priorities for how merchandise is sold, delivered, picked up and returned. Topping the list is “buy online, pickup in-store” with 56 percent of retailers saying that was their highest prioritized strategy. Near the bottom of the preference chart is the strategy of “buy online, return to a store,” obviously an underutilized strategy given the actual preference of consumers.
Cyber Monday, the biggest online shopping day of the year, produced $2.68 billion in sales this year, which means more than $800 million in merchandise was likely returned, and roughly $600 million of which consumers will want to return in person. According to a report by A.T. Kearney titled “Omnichannel Shopping Preferences Study,” regardless of where a consumer makes their purchase, online or in the store, nearly 75 percent of them who want to return an item prefer to do it in the physical store rather than ship it back.
comStore, Inc., a leader in analyzing the digital world, teamed up with UPS on a study released in June that says consumers want retailers to make it easier for them to make their purchases, and they want stores and websites to work more cohesively. The study also reveals that customers are more apt to make a purchase when they know up front that they’ll be able to return it for free.
In fact, 82 percent of the 5,000-plus who took part in the survey said they would make their purchases if they knew they were allowed to return their item and/or have free return shipping. Sixty-six percent said they review the retailers’ return policies before they make a purchase, which is an indication that retailers would be smart to create more awareness about their return policy by positioning it more prevalently on the website.
The study also reveals that consumers want to make returns as easily as possible, which can be achieved if the retailer supplies a return label with every purchase. However, given that 75 percent of consumers prefer to make their returns in person to a store, retailers need to be staffed and ready for a large volume of returns during peak shopping periods.
Having the capacity to manage ecommerce strategies takes more than experience in retailing. Partnering with a team that can offer not only eCommerce strategies, but also user experience strategies and technical assessments, can put a retailer ahead of the pack. Netsphere Strategies is a company that brings consulting, development and support to the table.