For online retailers, return shipping is simply a fact of life – an expensive, time-consuming fact of life. A new consumer study by Sendcloud reveals the importance of return shipping to European online shoppers before, during and after the COVID-19 crisis.
In this article, Cenk Bayraktar from Sendcloud explains what this means for online retailers, and how customer expectations will shape ecommerce shipping in 2021 and beyond. You’ll also find plenty of helpful, in-depth tips for boosting your conversion rate by crafting the perfect returns policy. Bottom line: a smart returns process helps you recover the costs of return shipping by generating new conversions and repeat business.
Return shipping in ecommerce
Under EU law, online shoppers have the right to withdraw from a sale and return merchandise, because online shopping falls under the category of ‘distance commerce’. In practical terms, this means that shoppers can return items they’ve bought from your online shop within 14 days of receiving them, without having to specify a reason.
Tip: Give your customers and yourself an opportunity to learn from return shipping by asking them to voluntarily state a reason for the return. Although they are not required to do so by law, many customers are still willing to provide this information when asked. Of course, you’ll need to make sure it's as simple as possible for your customer to provide this information (for example, by offering them a user-friendly returns portal on your site).
What do European consumers think about returns?
Too small... too big... just don’t like it... European consumers are not afraid to return an item bought online if it isn’t exactly what they want. In fact, 53% of EU online shoppers say that they regularly return items bought online, while 31% say they sometimes do. Only 16% say they never return items. In other words, EU consumers are not shy about returning merchandise to online retailers. But why is return shipping so common?
For one thing, the soaring number of returns is probably due to consumer-friendly legislation which makes return shipping possible in the first place. But major online retailers who offer free return shipping have also raised customers’ expectations. Based on customer feedback, the main reasons why they return products are because the item is not the right size or it is faulty. Like it or not, return shipping is here to stay. One thing is certain: if you give your customer a positive, hassle-free return shipping experience, they’re almost certain to return to your online shop for a future purchase.
Why some shoppers never use return shipping
The ecommerce statistics from Sendcloud’s study also reveal why some European online shoppers never return items they buy online. The main reason these shoppers avoid return shipping is that they find the returns process too much of a hassle (50%). For 44% of non-return-shippers, return shipping is simply not worth the cost, while another 11% say there’s no possibility to return the item in the first place, and 10% say they tend to forget to return items in time.
A clear returns policy is essential
Most online shoppers in the EU now say that they regularly review a retailer’s returns policy before clicking the ‘Buy now’ button. Sendcloud’s large-scale survey of European consumers confirms this trend.
Since the start of the coronavirus crisis, many ecommerce retailers have started offering more generous return shipping options, such as extended returns periods. This gives their shoppers more than just the legally required 14 days to make up their mind about keeping an item. Some retailers are now even granting their shoppers a return period of up to 100 days.
Return shipping before, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic
Before the coronavirus crisis began, 45% of European consumers preferred to drop off return-shipping packages at a courier drop-off point. Since the start of the crisis, however, that number has dropped to 34%. This reduction in traffic to drop-off points is probably due to the growing tendency among shoppers to stay at home due to coronavirus lockdown measures, or because they prefer to avoid potentially crowded public spaces. For you as an online retailer, it is important to cater to your customers’ preferences. After all, if you offer your customer a smooth returns procedure, including their preferred option for handing over return packages, you gain their loyalty and entice them back to your shop for repeat business.
Good to know: The COVID-19 pandemic has affected return shipping differently in different countries across Europe. In southern European countries, for example, consumers now prefer pick-up at home, whereas German consumers, for example, still like going to drop-off locations. Here once again, you can see the impacts of coronavirus lockdown measures: southern European countries faced stricter measures than elsewhere in Europe, which is probably why fewer shoppers there are willing or able to visit drop-off points in person.
Top tips for increasing your conversion rate
One way to boost your conversion rate as an online retailer is to clearly communicate all important information about the ordering, purchasing and returns process on your website. FAQs are an effective way to answer your customers’ questions and prevent them from unnecessarily contacting your support department. This reduces the number of support queries you receive, which saves time and money. As for your returns policy, there are a few important points that you should always keep in mind. The section below walks you through these items step by step.
How to create the perfect returns policy
1. Always be sure to clearly, visibly communicate your returns policy on your online shop.
2. By offering free return shipping, you can boost customer satisfaction and increase your chances of repeat business.
3. Make sure that your returns procedure is as simple as possible.
4. On average, European consumers expect for online retailers to refund their order within five days of returning an item. So, be sure to issue refunds quickly as soon as the merchandise is on its way back to you. It’s also important to keep your customer up to date on the status of their returns and refunds.
5. In addition to refunds, give your customer the option of receiving a store credit or voucher code, so they can simply ‘exchange’ the items or place a new order with you right away.
6. Also give your customers the freedom to hand over their return package at various parcel shops, or offer convenient at-home collection.
7. To keep support queries to a minimum, proactively inform your customers of the status of their returns.
8. If you’re shipping items internationally, be sure to define clear policies for each country (such as different return shipping costs).
9. Be sure to keep a regular overview of all incoming and processing return shipments. This helps you to manage your inventory more effectively.
10. It’s also a good idea to ask your customers why they are returning an item. This can help you to optimise your products, so you can lower the costs and volume of return shipping in the future.
Return shipping solutions from Sendcloud
European online shoppers expect returns to be fast and easy. That’s why many online retailers now rely on professional return shipping solutions. With return shipping solutions from Sendcloud, you benefit from offering a personalised online returns portal, where your customers can select a refund, exchange or credit in just a few clicks. The handy live-status updates on returns also offer full transparency and build trust among your customers. Sendcloud also offers the convenience of automatically generated return shipping labels. Do you want to learn more about how you can cater your ecommerce return shipping to meet consumer expectations in 2021 and beyond
For more insights into European customer preferences on returns shipping and other ecommerce topics, be sure to check out the full consumer study here.