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The returns blackhole: A lack of options and poor returns communication risks future retail sales

Updated: Apr 15, 2023

Retailers are failing to build customer experience into online returns, and risk losing future sales and shoppers’ loyalty due to communication blackholes and a lack of choice in the returns process, according to new research.

The latest data from parcelLab, quizzed 150 of the UK’s leading retailers in the ‘Operations Experience 2021 – How Does UK Retail Measure Up?’ Report, which benchmarked retailers’ performance around key metrics including checkout, shipping and returns.

The report showed that the average number of options for returning products offered by UK retailers was just two.  Over a quarter (27%) only gave one option for sending back an item, limiting customers options and adding friction into the returns experience.

Most retailers (54%) were still asking customers to return an item to store, despite many stores now being closed under national covid-19 lockdown restrictions – a move which has forced many retail businesses to extend Christmas returns policies.  While 48% of retailers did offer to accept returns via mail, over a quarter (26%) of retailers still expected customers to pay for their own returns.  And this was in spite of a recent poll by Klarna showing that 78% of shoppers would buy more from retailers if returns were free*, while Royal Mail’s data suggests 60% online shoppers wouldn’t shop with a retailer again if they have a difficult returns experience**.

In addition to the lack of returns formats available, many retailers are failing to regularly communicate with shoppers during the returns experience, leaving customers in the dark about the status of their return or their refund.

While 81% of UK retailers did confirm receipt of a returned item once it arrived back at their warehouse, 59% only communicated once with a customer during the entire returns process – just 7% of retailers communicated more than twice.  This, the report, suggests means many retailers are missing out on the opportunity to re-engage the shopper, offer them up alternative items or encourage future sales.

Julian Krenge, Co-Founder and CTO of parcelLab, commented: “Retailers who don’t cater for the needs of customers in the returns process risk eroding customer loyalty and losing future sales, just at the time they need to be capitalising on the accelerated and sustained shift to ecommerce.”

“Lockdown hasn’t just brought new cohorts of shoppers online, but it’s also encouraged consumers to try out new brands online, so it really is a case of making sure first impressions count.  Even if the product isn’t quite right for that particular order, delivering a seamless returns experience can go a long way to saving future sales – and key to that is ensuring that the customer has enough choice to make the return convenient and enough information that they feel supported and kept in the loop at each stage.”


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