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How Processing Returns is Rapidly Evolving

Much has changed in the world of commerce this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and retailers have had to adapt quickly to circumstances and shift their business models to thrive, especially with their return processes. Customers can’t shop as they normally would, causing complications for customers who aren’t digitally-savvy with online tools, such as a size chart or cart management. As a result, consumers are returning purchases more than they would like to.

I recently participated in IBM’s live webinar series, LinkedIn LIVE, where we discuss the uptick in certain trends that have helped retailers adapt return processes to provide an excellent commerce experience.

How Brands are Adapting

How well businesses adapt depends on how digitally mature the organization is. Less mature retailers that do not automate returns often take more time to process. Digitally mature companies handle these processes differently, and here’s how:

They Modernize In-Store and Online Returns

Traditional returns are an exhaustive process with several steps that neither customer nor business has time for anymore, and digitally mature businesses handle returns in a more sophisticated manner. For example, customers can take their product without packaging it to the store, where they give a return code, and the retailer will take it and go from there. Simple and no hassle involved.

Digitally mature businesses can also achieve sophisticated returns from an omnichannel perspective, meaning customers are able to return an item to any channel regardless of it was purchased online or in-store. These mature retailers have full visibility and capability of managing returns in any way the order was placed. Providing this kind of experience is table stakes for many customers, as many are looking for a holistic, seamless commerce experience.

They Rely Less on Receipts

Many customers do not keep their physical receipts, and the expectation that retailers will ask for receipts during the return process is disappearing. Instead, retailers ask for the credit card used in the transaction, the order number, or even the customer’s email address. Even if the previous credit card is expired, retailers can find new ways to refund through the customer’s new credit card or rewards.

Keep the Sale for Customer Satisfaction

If a product arrives damaged or the wrong order arrives, more often than not, the customer is not required to return the product. Retailers must acknowledge that the order failed to come through correctly and supply the customer with a brand new product or exchange it without having the customer worry about dealing with the return process and for retailers getting the product back only to salvage is not a cost-effective process. For example, Target’s mobile app has a “Fix an Issue” capability that allows customers to seek help with a product they ordered. After receiving the request, Target will replace or exchange the product completely free of charge. Retailers can offer appeasements to customers, such as a discount on an order if other issues occur such as delayed shipping.

Partner with Other Brands for Returns

Businesses are finding new ways to eliminate multiple return processes through collaboration. For example, Business Insider states that just three weeks after Amazon set up return kiosks in Kohl’s stores, Kohl’s gained a 24% increase in foot traffic when customers came in to return their Amazon products, leading customers to stay a lot longer and have a stronger interest to shop after their return. It is a win-win situation for both parties because businesses and customers don’t have to worry about shipping costs, have better shopping experiences, and create stronger relationships with these brands and their customers because of these partnerships.

Simplifying Return Logistics

When a customer returns a product bought with a promotion or discounted price, they expect to receive the amount they paid for it in their return. Customers shouldn’t have to worry about how that process is handled and should be taken care of by the retailer. For example, Kohl’s cash and rewards are used and applied to the order once it is processed. If a customer bought a discounted product and returns the product, Kohl’s return system ensures the exact amount of money and rewards are returned to the customer.

Extension of Returns

Like myself, many customers do not open their orders within the usual 30-day return period, and retailers are starting to realize the importance of extending return periods. Costco provides a 365-day return period for most items and, like many mature retailers, can look up your order through your membership and return it from there. Extending the return period can provide a great experience and ease customer’s minds about the return process.

The Future of Returns

Modernized, seamless return processes have a direct impact on the customer buying journey and making a return possible no matter the conflict or situation will benefit the customer in every way possible. To learn more, contact our commerce experts today.

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