6 Return Management strategies to make the most of your return touchpoints

The return touchpoint is central to the purchase decision; but many retailers still treat returns as an afterthought.

In 2022 the ecommerce returns management landscape has evolved quickly.  A combination of consumer trends are making returns more challenging than ever before for retailers to manage them well. To address these challenges, the a need to understand the top 6 Return Management strategies to make the most of your return touchpoints is must.

Therefore, it is vital to keep your customers informed at key stages of the return process. In this post, we'll guide you through the critical return customer touchpoints that reassure customers they have fulfilled their obligations and that a refund or replacement item is forthcoming.

The first global trend we are seeing is the increasing expectations of convenience. In fact, nowadays consumers are buying from a wide range of websites and comparing experiences. This means that they now expect the convenience of large retailers such as Amazon, ASOS, etc. In the world of returns this means a free and easy touchpoint.

The second global trend is what we refer to as the virtual fitting room. When shoppers purchase clothes in a physical store, they try them on and then decide what they buy. In the world of online fashion, the fitting room is now at home when shoppers receive the package. Consumers now will buy many products, and then decide what to keep after trying them at home. Accordingly, 80–90% of returned fashion products are due to fit or style. The return touchpoint is therefore central to the purchase decision; many retailers still treat returns as an afterthought.

When combined, these two powerful trends increase the rate of returns, and makes the return touchpoint an imperative, to be handled expertly, in order to keep and grow customers, and to ultimately deliver profit. In 2017, about 80% of consumers expected free returns. In contrast, only 25% of merchants do offer free returns in 2023. It is becoming increasingly clear: merchants need to equip themselves with tools and best practices to meet their customer’s expectations. 


Understanding return customer touchpoints!

Before we jump into return customer touchpoints to fully leverage your returns, first let’s consider a few relevant data points to help us think differently about returns:

  • 83% of consumers read the return policy before buying: the return touchpoint has an impact on conversions.
  • 72% of consumers are likely to shop more with a retailer that made the return process easier: the return touchpoint has an impact on customer lifetime value (LTV).
  • 89% of consumers have returned an online purchase in the last three years. The return touchpoint is now mainstream and affects most of your customers.

What are customer Touchpoints?

“What is a customer touch point” - This is a query that almost every ecommerce business has to understand in order to work towards their product return management strategy. Let’s take a closer look below:

Customer touchpoints in the ecommerce industry refer to all the various points of interaction between a customer and an ecommerce business throughout the customer journey. These touchpoints can occur across multiple channels and platforms, both online and offline.

These generally include social media, mobile app, website, live chat, email, customer review, etc.

Basis the product you sell, these touch points can be moulded as per convenience. 

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The 6 Most Important Returns Touchpoints

Our insights come from data of 250k+ returns from over 500 merchants in India, with a large portion in apparel, luxury and beauty products.

#1: Promote convenience

Promote Free or Easy Returns on your landing page. By simply including a banner, you can impact your conversion rate: we know of retailers who use free returns promotions as a “panic button” when their conversion rate is trending down. In any case, make sure you communicate your return experience clearly across your customers.

Secondly, make your returns policy sexy (sort of). Since 83% of shoppers do read your return policy, it is worth thinking carefully about the user experience (UX). Here is a good and a bad example.

Good example: Clear, quick, structured.

return customer touchpoints

Bad example: Wordy, unclear, looks like a contract. And who says contract says lawyer; and who says lawyer says “where is the catch”?!

return customer touchpoints

This type of unclear returns policy that looks like fine prints probably doesn’t help build brand trust. Consumers need to feel that the return process will be hassle-free and that the retailer has their best interest at heart in order to build trust and loyalty.

Lastly, in order to promote convenience, give your customers more control on the returns process. Control is a form of convenience, and by allowing the customer to be in charge, they feel more invested in your brand.

Most retailers initiate a return with a customer service phone call or email, where back and forth ensues until the customer has received all the info they need. This creates friction, since customers have shopped at Amazon, Nike, etc. where they can handle returns easily and quickly, all by themselves.

Instead of using phone or email to initiate a return, embed customer return portals on your site to automate RMA’s and shippings labels. As explained it increases convenience and brand trust, while also saving your customer service time.

#2: Increase store credit refunds

In his previous job my co-founder once tried to implement a “store credit only” return policy. Not surprisingly, customers revolted because they were not offered the choice to receive a cash refund. Because their experience was impacted negatively, it had an immediate negative impact on conversion and LTV. Needless to say, that policy did not last long.

Interestingly, there is a way to drive more store credit refunds that presents a positive impact for the customer experience. By providing multiple return options to the customer, or what we call choice convenience, such as cash refund, exchanges and store credit, they will feel more positive about opting for a store credit. In fact, highly engaging brands’ engagement tend to see higher choice of store credit refunds. One can argue that a store credit refund signals a real intent to buy again soon, and could be seen as a proxy for a strong Net Promoter Score (NPS) from your loyal customers.

As a case study example, top D2C brands saw up to 85% of refunds being processed in store credits. This has a positive impact on cash flow and margins since the orders refunded in store credits remain in the store. In order to drive this kind of behaviour, in some cases merchants did charge a return fee for cash refunds, and offered free store credits. By creating an extra incentive, it did leave the choice up to the customers, without negatively impacting their return experience.

#3: Protect profits with a smart return policy

Not every customer or every transaction is equally profitable. So why treat them all the same? With a smart rules engine, you can segment the returns data and customise the return experience based on a number of dimensions to your policy, such as return reason, product margin, country of the order, customer LTV, discounted products, etc.

In order to protect profits you can decide, for example, to offer free returns only for damaged products, high margin products, local order, high value customers, and regular priced items.

Conversely, you are able to deduct the cost of the return label from the refund (i.e the customer pays for it) in cases where the product is returned because of fit, is a low margin product, an international order, a low value customer and on discount items.

By segmenting the return data and by customising the experience you can make sure to invest in the experience where it makes most sense to optimise profit, and drive customer LTV, etc. and avoid investing too much in unprofitable transactions.

#4: Leverage real time data

return customer touchpoints

With a front end return portal you can capture a sizable amount of real time data on returns, customers, products, etc. This provides tremendous insights to improve inventory decisions. We have seen this happen previously with many of our high volume merchants. 

They saved tens of thousands each day by understanding that the sizings were an issue driving returns. Once they adjusted their inventory purchasing decisions accordingly, they were able to drastically reduce loss and discounts caused by returned products.

#5: Use the return touchpoint to increase revenue

return customer touchpoints

With data on returns on who is buying and what is in their basket, you can understand some important information to drive more sales. For example, you can understand what customers would prefer in exchange for an item being returned, or what they want to keep when they bought the same product in multiple sizes. 

Today retailers think about returns as a painful process, they do not look at returns as a channel to drive more revenue. But, while the customer is requesting a return, what if you could recommend a complementary product to increase basket size? For example, if you know that a loyal customer has bought the same dress in two sizes and is going to keep one of them, why not recommend a matching belt at a discount to complete the outfit, and increase basket size in the process?

A recommendation engine leveraging data on returns could deliver promotions via the customer return portal (similar to when you buy a plane ticket and you are asked if you wish to book a hotel within the checkout). This recommendation engine could also serve promotions directly inside confirmation emails. What is interesting about confirmation emails is their open rate, since it contains critical information, people do pay attention and engage with them. Why not use this email touchpoint to convey critical information, and also say: “by the way have you considered this matching product too?”

#6: Invest in reverse logistics

Finally, we should also mention there are a number of ways to improve the net margin on returned products. While not customer facing, these ideas are used by some retailers to make the most of their growing pains associated with returns:

  • Cross-border returns centre: Use a 3PL provider for pan India return needs. For example a Karnataka retailer selling in the north could manage returns within the north and resell them locally with the next north region orders. This is what major D2C’s are doing in India, instead of shipping back to the brands’ home, returned products are resold locally. It saves shipping and customs fees. Some 3PL providers do offer a shared inventory management solution, so you do not need to have a huge scale for this to make sense for your store.
  • Predictive Restocking: You can track in real time the status of returned packages. If you know that an item is not damaged and can be resold, why not put the item back into inventory sooner and turn inventory faster to improve profit? For example: If a specific high demand item is seeing more demand than what is currently available in inventory, you could sell the item from a previous order, knowing from the real time data that it will be back in your warehouse within 48 hours. Increasing sales velocity and reducing loss could amount to sizable extra profit.
  • Liquidation Channels: Today most retailers handle returns in one of two ways: restock or destroy. However, there are other alternatives to handle returns that may be more appealing to optimise for profits. Essentially, other liquidation channels can allow you to recover more profit than restocking or destroying options. For example, you can resell products as second-hand on eBay, Amazon, etc. You can donate returned products, which is great for buy-one-give-one brands, since they can give the returned items to charity. Even for retailers that do not offer buy-one-get-one, the donations can result in sizable tax credits. These are just a few examples, there are multiple alternative channels that are worth investigating.

Why do customer touchpoints matter during a return?

As we saw above, customer touchpoints are crucial for maintaining positive relationships with customers. But it’s equally important to invest in a seamless and customer-centric return process that can yield significant long-term benefits for ecommerce businesses. These benefits include, but are not limited to:

  1. Customer Experience
  2. Brand Reputation
  3. Customer Loyalty and Lifetime Value
  4. Competitive Advantage
  5. Insight into Product and Service Improvement
  6. Regulatory Compliance

Customer Touchpoint Examples

The challenge of returns is real. It is growing in line with consumer expectations for free and easy returns. The good news is, that retailers have a number of strategies available to rethink returns and take action to deliver more value, and ultimately drive more revenue and profit.

Let’s look at some of the major customer touch points examples across the industry:

  • Return Impact on Customer Loyalty: Customer retention increases by 20% when a seamless return experience is provided, leading to a subsequent 15% rise in repeat purchases over a six-month period.
  • Analytics for Informed Decision Making: Businesses utilising data analytics in return management witness a 25% reduction in return rates by identifying and addressing specific product quality issues, resulting in a 30% improvement in customer satisfaction scores.
  • Customer Experience Enhancement: A well-designed return touchpoint contributes to a 15% increase in customer satisfaction ratings, with 80% of customers reporting a willingness to recommend the brand based on their positive return experience.
  • Operational Efficiency Gains: Implementing automated systems results in a 30% reduction in manual processing time, allowing businesses to handle returns 20% more efficiently, with a 25% decrease in operational costs related to returns.
  • Personalisation Opportunities: Personalised post-return communications lead to a 10% higher conversion rate for follow-up purchases, and targeted product recommendations based on return data result in a 15% increase in the average order value.
  • Brand Reputation Management: Brands with positive return experiences enjoy a 25% higher online rating and a 20% increase in positive customer reviews, while those mishandling returns experience a 15% decline in customer trust and satisfaction scores.
return customer touchpoints

Pragma’s Return Management System (RMS)

Pragma’s RMS has reached far and wide in India due to 1 major reason -  its levels of customisable brand functionality, as it helps you integrate with 50+ Indian Multi-carrier/logistics partners, with a dedicated and branded return request page.

Brands can make sure that their return process looks personalised to the customer.

return customer touchpoints

Exchange or Refund products with Pragma’s RMS

Furthermore, with return requests rising in number, you can put Return restrictions on select products that help the customer be aware of the no-return policy well in advance like; innerware, electronics above Rs. 2,500, etc.

This is further complemented by the addition of a Customisable multi-step approval process for accepting return requests, making sure you don’t receive random return requests from customers.

return customer touchpoints

Customisable Multi-step approval for accepting return requests

While most of the RMS in the market provide a customisable dashboard, it becomes important to have a dashboard that has everything in one place.

With Pragma, the brand gets access to:

  1. Perform QC, Generate payment links, Store credit and initiate shipments all in one place
  1. Leave comments to customers against their request - Add more details or reasons for rejection.

With that being said, Pragma’s RMS is relentlessly empowering millions of users via a customer base of 450+. Let’s also see what benefits these features have on customers:

  • The user feels personalised - Brand logo and colour customisations.
  • One-click return/exchange request for users provides a seamless user experience.
  • Get support for different kinds of refunds - Source, Coupons, Bank transfers and Store credit.
  • Seamless browsing and selection during the exchange
  • Accept exchange difference via COD or Prepaid
  • Exchange with same or different product category
return customer touchpoints

Customising experience for a Customer-first approach

Do you know what’s the best part about Pragma?

It's the Deep Analytical insights about customer behaviour that it provides. These can be very helpful in setting up an RMS largely due to the following reasons:

  1. In-depth analytics on product performance, and pincode performance.
  1. Access to Live data to build strategies on the go.
  1. Multi-level nested reasons for better customer understanding. 
  1. Assign different return reasons for different product types.
  1. Flagging of risky users during order placement or return placement.

It is important to understand that as you work towards enhancing the user experience, it is equally important to safeguard against fraudulent buyers exploiting the convenient return process for malicious purposes. 

Consequently, by utilising data gathered from over 400 brands, Pragma can assist you in addressing these deceptive individuals.

return customer touchpoints

Talk to our experts for a customised solution that can maximise your sales funnel

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