Managing Returns

Sellers hate returns, and a new survey from Pitney Bowes shows that buyers are not very fond of them as well, but for a different reason.

According to a BOXpoll from shipping solutions provider Pitney Bowes, 3 out of 4 consumers found their recent online returns experiences were a hassle.

Of the 2094 U.S. consumers polled, 76% said they returned at least one item from their last few online purchases; 78% said the returns process was inconvenient, with only 22% saying they considered the process easy.

The ability to return items ranks high with consumers and failing to offer an easy returns process could be damaging a seller’s brand and reputation. Pitney Bowes said that according to its weekly Order Experience tracker, 80% of consumers place a high value on the returns process, significantly ahead of checkout and delivery.

So, what makes the returns process such a hassle for shoppers? Here is what the BOXpoll found.

  1. 22% complain about a return label not being included in the shipping box.
  2. 20% can’t stand being charged for return shipping.
  3. 19% wish they didn’t have to wait for refunds to be issued.
  4. 16% cite the lack of communications from retailers about the receipt of returns and refund status.
  5. 13% mention the hassle (time & effort) to drop off a return package at a carrier location.

Large online retailers have been addressing these pain points by offering conditional instant credits or refunds and implementing “just keep it” policies. But as this poll shows, there is still a long way to go to satisfy customer expectations.

The Returns Nightmare is Just Starting for Small Sellers

For small sellers, especially on marketplaces like eBay, Etsy, Poshmark, and others, solving these issues will be a lot more complicated and expensive since they lack the scale of large retailers. To make it worse, many small sellers never think about returns until they happen and often lack a comprehensive returns cost tracking and management strategy.

Just as free and fast shipping has changed customer expectations and increased costs for small online retailers, returns are doing the same. Again, these new expectations will be driven by large online retailers that can more easily afford to address the pain points.

One of the simplest steps for small sellers may be to identify problem products or categories and stay away from offering them. Sellers shouldn’t just look at frequency but at the actual cost of managing the returns to make these decisions.

Next would be to develop a returns process strategy that includes professional and precise communications scripts. While communications wasn’t the top issue cited in this poll, good communications may help shoppers feel more confident they are dealing with a responsive seller.

As the first sentence said, sellers hate returns, but managing returns will become more critical to stay competitive. Marketplace sellers shouldn’t be surprised if more policy changes will come down the pike that will favor sellers that offer better and faster return experiences. It’s just a matter of time!

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