Buyer making decision considering returns policy

3 Ways Retailers Can Navigate the Complexities of the Decision-Making Process


Returns are complicated. Now more than ever, returns are an essential part of the customer experience. Recent data from Auctane confirmed that 86% of buyers are more likely to shop with a brand that offers free returns than they are to shop with one that doesn’t.

This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of buyers’ expectations. When it comes to returns, retailers should consider these three key components: transparency, speed and emerging tech. 

1. Transparency is Expected 

The hard truth is the supply chain is broken. Many retailers are feeling the repercussions of the strain with increased costs and delayed shipments. All the while, consumers demand utmost transparency into these changes. In 2021, consumer preferences shifted, requiring retailers to implement tools that allowed consumers to receive updates on their orders in real-time from the time the order is placed until it’s delivered to the doorstep. 

In today’s day and age, sellers can’t over-communicate. Those who are communicating early and often are winning, leveraging end-to-end visibility into their supplier, warehouse and shipping processes. These changes can be seen on retailers web pages: displaying immediate product availability locally and/or nationally and estimated shipping date for in-cart items which allows users to sign up for status updates on the good’s transit by text and email after completing their order 

Shipping updates via SMS are becoming customers’ preferred form of communication. Auctane’s study determined that 9 in 10 consumers expect retailers to provide branded shipping and returns status updates via email and 7 in 10 expect retailers to provide branded shipping and returns status updates via SMS. Retailers who don’t have a partnership with a cell service are losing out on business by not meeting consumers where they are. 

These changes don’t occur overnight, with some key eCommerce players resisting this new transformation. Refusing to provide package status updates, offer tracked returns, and display their return policies makes the process more difficult, not only for their shopper, but for themselves in the long run.

It’s no surprise that full transparency isn’t an easy promise. No matter the size, customers notice those who invest time to create a seamless shopping experience. In doing so, they build a trusted rapport with customers that over time, convert to loyal shoppers. 

2. Speed is Essential 

Consumers’ patience has decreased exponentially over the last decade, due to their increased expectation of two day shipping or less. When thinking about deliveries in the age of COVID-19, one thing is clear – consumers are willing to pay more to guarantee reduced shipping times.

Look at Amazon Prime as an example, whose customers place a high level of trust that once an order is placed they’ll receive it within 1-2 business days. If an order is delayed, Amazon is quick and willing to provide make-goods as needed without heavy lifting on the part of the customer.

Two of the most crucial aspects of the buyer’s decision-making process is the idea of trust and speed – and by harnessing these two elements Amazon Prime and similar two-day services created a cycle of trust in their services.

The eCommerce company has intentionally placed emphasis on building a credible platform that guarantees sellers a broad reach and buyers access to quality products. By increasing access to information on both sides, such as accurate package tracking, timely status notifications, and reduced turn times we re-instill the value of the returns process. 

3. Embracing the Future of Omnichannel and Returns 

In ten years, the retail, eCommerce and shipping landscape will undergo serious changes. The industry is in a pivotal stage with new processes such as ship from store creating buzz and paving the way for greater adoption of the omnichannel strategy. No one should ignore the necessity of this period as retailers test out the benefits of sugar returns, ship from store and curbside pickup all contributing to building a seamless end-to-end pipeline. 

3PL warehouse spaces have reached a premium, especially today. As a result of the supply chain they’ve shifted their focal point to prioritize more outbound fulfillment of inventory, which entails picking, packing and shipping.

Many retailers’ are being turned away from 3PLs, an unheard-of reality until now, leaving retailers to become their own de facto 3PL and use their store space for the fulfillment of outbound orders and returns processing.

Retailers like Anthropologie, are on the cutting edge of these returns processes. The only items necessary to complete a return are the receipt and the credit card used to make an order along with identification. No tags are needed on the product, and the store offers complimentary return pick-ups provided by USPS. The postal worker arrives at the customer’s house and picks up the packaged item, with the free return label provided, right from their doorstep.

If one thing is clear, it’s that omnichannel is changing the face of the returns process and if not embraced, will leave many retailers in the dust.

Returns in 2022 

It’s clear that returns will be a major consideration for consumers and retailers in 2022. If we look at high-volume shopping seasons over the past decade you’ll see a significant shift in retailers’ policies in response to changing consumer behaviors.

With expectations only rising, retailers must begin to embrace returns as an important aspect of the customer experience. Retailers able to craft an end-to-end customer service experience with immaculate returns processing will see more repeat customers and ultimately heightened revenue.

This will allow them to communicate real-time limited quantities to their customers and provide visibility into where the product is at all times, including in the returns process. Those who succeed here will need a strong product assortment and inventory supply of products in-store.

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This article is a part of our Leadership Series, which features industry experts sharing valuable insights for small business owners who sell online. The opinions expressed in this contribution are solely those of the author(s).

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