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With Australian retailers facing predictions of a lacklustre Christmas and sales season, many will be focusing on what else they can do to increase their customer’s loyalty.

According to a recent APAC online shopper study, 75% of customers say the returns process influences their buying decision, meaning returns can no longer be an unwelcome after thought. Making it more convenient to return and replace unwanted gifts and products with ease, is one area many retailers can improve on. A good returns process can remove friction from the customer experience and turn a disappointed customer into a loyal advocate.

Consumers aren’t always entitled to a return if they simply change their mind or find a product cheaper elsewhere. However, many retailers recognise that a customer friendly return policy can boost customer satisfaction and brand loyalty. Here’s five ways to make returns an easy process:

  1. Highlight your returns policy

It is vital your returns policies are clearly stated and posted visibly online, including in shipped packages and in-store. Offer a variety of options for customers to return items on their own with minimal effort. It also helps to lay out clearly defined policies that address several types of return situations. In addition to having a sign at checkout detailing how you handle returns; you may also want to print your policy on your receipts. In some cases, employees should also be instructed to verbally communicate your return policies. For instance, if you don’t accept returns for sale items, have your staff remind shoppers of this when they see that a customer has purchased an item from the clearance rack. This will help prevent any potential frustration further down the line.

  1. Provide a great customer experience across all platforms

The line between bricks-and-mortar stores and your online storefront should be unnoticeable to customers. Ensuring consistency across the customer journey, whether customers are visiting your store, website or mobile app is critical. It will build a frictionless experience and easy interaction for your customers. For retailers that don’t have physical locations available in every area of the country it is important to provide easy-to-find return labels and policies around postage. You can include a paid return envelope in the package or alternatively an easy to use link for “request returns package here”. This way, customers who do not wish to visit a physical store are provided with a pain-free way to return their products.

If you’re able to offer your customers the option to return in store, that is a bonus and should be emphasised. Not many retailers offer this and for many customers this is a real benefit as it’s more convenient to drop it off at a store than package and send in some cases. It is also cheaper for the customer if you don’t cover the cost of the postage and better for the environment. If you have popular products that frequently sell out, offering ship-to-store options can keep customers coming back. The knowledge that any product is available, no matter its current location, will drive in-store visits and maintain customer satisfaction.

  1. Grab the opportunity for conversion and upselling

Ask your staff to entice customers by reminding (in a non-pushy way) of the great products or gift cards they can get in exchange for the item that they’re returning. Hopefully, this will get them to explore your shop to see what they can get using their store credit or potentially upsell the original investment. For example, if a customer has bought a shirt online that doesn’t fit properly and has come into the store to return it, use the opportunity to offer a different size or brand that might suit their requirements better. If your store associates have access to customer data and can see this shopper has ordered a few items of rose gold jewellery previously and is now coming into the store to return something, they can draw their attention to other items that might match their previous interests. Returning in store will save shipping and the associated carbon emissions and there is also a lot retailers can do in providing compostable satchels and packing material if a return kit is requested.

  1. Use returns to gather insights

Returns can give you insights about your products, your customers, and even your marketing strategy. So, make a point to gather feedback every time you process a return or exchange. Always ask why a customer is returning the product. Were they not satisfied? Did they find a better alternative somewhere else? Was the item damaged? Or did it not fit? Technology is your friend when it comes to data analysis. Good retail software should tell you which products get returned, how quickly, and via which routes. This way you can assess the cost of returns in terms of time and profit and correct any negative trends early. It may be an issue with a product. Or, with your marketing.

  1. Make it painless and environmentally friendly

Don’t make people jump through hoops just to return a product. Offer a generous return time period and state clearly and visibly what this is. Further, free return shipping will help offset the disappointment of a return. And let your customers return items via parcel pick up points as well as in-store. When you eliminate the risk and hassles of returns, you build goodwill. Fluent Commerce’s distributed order management platform provides all the functionality needed for a retailer to offer ultimate delivery flexibility, and save time and money dealing with returns and courier shipping.

When your customers see how gracious you are, they’ll like and trust you more because the relationship becomes personal—it’s not just a business interaction. This means they’ll be more likely to purchase from you in the future and more inclined to share their positive experiences with their friends and family.

Veronika Birnkammer is marketing manager at Fluent Commerce.