Delivering the full circle customer experience through product returns

By Niklas Hedin, CEO of Centiro.

Online returns continue to be a major pain point for many retailers; in fact in some geographies they are as high as 60%. To date many have simply managed the return of goods as a cost recovery exercise, rather than adapting their processes to take into account customers' ever-changing buying habits. In the same way that today's omni-channel environment is allowing consumers to buy items where and when they want, it is clear they would like the same flexibility when it comes to returns. For many retailers, product returns are a missed opportunity to enhance the customer experience and differentiate them from the competition.

The customer is always right

Online retail has changed the way people shop. Consumers are now buying multiple items rather than one or two, with the intention of sending some back – especially in fashion retail where multiple sizes are often bought. These customers still expect a high level of service in the returns and, if they are dealt with in an effective and customer-friendly manner, they are more likely to spend again with that retailer.

Failing to deliver on expectations

In today's omni-channel environment, customers are making more demands on how they return products. This means returning a wider variety of goods from any number of locations determined by the customer, including but not limited to: the home, the office, the post office, drop off point, or local retail store. In order to meet this challenge and deliver the full circle brand experience, intelligent coordination between retailers and multiple carriers is needed. For example, a customer running late to meet a courier collecting a return from their home might decide to change the collection window to the following day using their mobile phone. They might also decide that they only want to return one item rather than all three that they originally purchased.

Through greater visibility of their carrier networks retailers can put customers at the heart of the returns process, allowing them to return goods in a way that best suits them. Furthermore, capturing this information can also allow retailers to improve the returns experience.

Ticking the boxes

Through linking delivery management to Customer Relationship Management data, retailers can begin to offer a more personalised returns experience to their customers to foster brand loyalty. This could take the form of a certain number of free deliveries throughout the year, or more precise pick up windows. Retailers can also engage with customers by giving more free returns to customers that spend more. Being flexible over return options can be a good way to demonstrate value and reward loyalty over the upcoming Christmas period, when customers will purchase gifts weeks before they give them to the intended recipients.

Product returns can also form a valuable part of the customer journey. They provide a way for the retailer to re-engage with dissatisfied customers, by offering discounts and targeted offers to show the customer how valuable they are. Ensuring a consistent user experience can help meet the returns requirements of all customers locally and internationally, irrespective of geography or carriers used.

Looking into our crystal ball, Big Data and the Internet of Things mean we will inevitably see the delivery and returns process become more closely linked with purchasing history and determined by data from channels such as social media. In future, mobile and wearable devices may even help retailers deliver location-based services informed by a customer's individual habits and preferences. Regardless of the type of technology used, a customer-centric approach will be key.

The final leg

Every touch point between a customer and a brand is now an opportunity for the retailer to champion its brand, and product returns are no different. Offering a greater range of options in returns targeted at the individual customer can allow retailers to maximise the opportunities of returns and apply this success to new international markets. If retailers embrace this opportunity they can ensure it is the customer that returns, time and time again.

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