CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
December 19, 2018
Forward Thinking

Shoppers value communication over convenience in the returns process, study shows

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Transparent policies and proactive updates positively influence consumer perception and brand loyalty, according to Narvar study of 1,300 online shoppers.

Consumers expect proactive communication and transparent policies up front when returning an online purchase, according to a new report from supply chain software company Narvar, released this week.

In "The State of Returns: What Today's Shoppers Expect," the majority of consumers surveyed said the ease of the returns process is a key driver of brand loyalty, with 96 percent of the 1,300 shoppers surveyed saying they would return to a retailer based on a positive returns process. Beyond that, the survey found that shoppers demand more proactive communication about their returns: Half of respondents said they want to be notified about the status of their return package, and 59 percent said they want to be notified about the status of their refund.

The study also found that clear communication often trumps convenience when it comes to returns.

"More and more, consumers are demanding to be kept in the loop throughout their shopping journey, which includes returns. Shoppers are even willing to put in a little more effort in exchange for clear and proactive updates," Amit Sharma, founder and CEO of Narvar said in a statement announcing the survey's findings. "Retailers will need to treat returns as a critical moment of opportunity in the customer experience."

The study pointed to online retail giant Amazon.com as case in point. Because Amazon clearly communicates the status of returns and refunds, shoppers will endure some inconvenience in the process, the study authors said, noting that:

  • Seventy-five percent of Amazon shoppers considered their return easy, compared to 65 percent of other shoppers.
  • Sixty-six percent of Amazon shoppers had to print a return label, compared to 33 percent of other shoppers.
  • Thirty-nine percent of Amazon shoppers received a confirmation when their refund was processed, compared to 21 percent of other shoppers.

Other key findings include:

  • Shoppers are often anxious about returning items purchased online: 29% have tracked their most recent package, and 28% worry their return will be lost in the mail; 31% have kept unwanted items to avoid the hassle of returns, down from 53% in 2017.
  • There is still room for retailers to reduce friction in returns: 77% of consumers would like an easier solution.
  • Consumers want the option to buy online and return in-store: 40% of shoppers think it's easier to return items to a store, while 17% won't buy an item without the option to return in-store.
  • 41% of shoppers are "bracketing," which means buying multiple versions of an item with the intent of returning some.

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