What your shoppers want and expect from returns

By: Neil Ashworth

You may have wondered, what are customers’ expectations when it comes to online returns, and what are the most popular services?

Our research has revealed what different demographics want and expect.

Our latest survey[1] shows that online shoppers are increasingly looking for more sophisticated returns options. 80% of our respondents say that a choice of returns channels is important to them, but what options are they looking for?

We receive feedback from over 7,000 customers every day via our Have Your Say programme, which is supplemented by additional research. Just as online shoppers have high expectations when it comes to the delivery of their order, the returns proposition is equally integral to building and retaining customer loyalty, and encouraging further online retail spend.

Five facts about shoppers’ attitudes towards returns services

Our research revealed that:

  • Over half of 18-44 year olds say that a lack of choice of returns channels has resulted in them abandoning an online purchase
  • At least 90% of shoppers will shop more frequently with a retailer that offers a refund at the point of return
  • The ‘try before you buy’ model, where shoppers pay after they’ve returned unwanted goods, will encourage 75% of 35-44 year olds to make an online purchase
  • Almost two thirds of shoppers say that paying to return an item has prevented them from shopping online with the same retailer again
  • Nearly 40% of shoppers prefer a carrier to collect unwanted items from them over other returns channels.

Why are people returning more than ever?

Shopping with a view to return has become part of the British shopping psyche. CollectPlus recently looked into consumer behaviour around the January sales. With many shoppers quick to snap up fashion bargains, over half (51%) admit that they’ll be sending back at least one of their purchases. The most common reason for returns (47%) is because it doesn’t fit them properly, while over a quarter (28%) will send back items because they don’t suit them.

Develop your returns artillery

As the online retail sector continues to grow at a rapid rate, consumers want as much choice with their returns as they have with their delivery. However, the reality is one of limited options.

Some retailers only offer a free returns service via their own store network. This can be frustrating for customers, when for many, the purchase was made online because they are unable to get to a physical outlet. If left only with the choice of paying to send the item back, 63% of shoppers told us that they will not shop online with the same retailer again, showing just how important it is to offer a convenient and free service among your returns options.

Innovation in returns is starting to increase, with new models entering the market, offering plenty of ways for retailers to get ahead of the curve and gain competitor advantage. Here are a few of the growing returns services retailers are using now:   

Try before you buy

Launched by Arcadia in 2016 and more recently introduced by ASOS, ‘try before you buy’ or ‘order now, pay later’ is designed to mirror the in-store experience. It allows customers to order products for delivery, try them on in the comfort of their own home and only pay for the items they wish to keep.

Our research found that over 75% of 35-44 year olds said that they are interested in this service, which has also been shown to drive customer loyalty and encourage increased basket spend.

The obvious risks for the retailer when offering a ‘try before you buy’ service can be managed by using a third-party payments provider, such as Klarna, which pays the retailer at point of purchase, while giving shoppers the option of paying later.

Refund at the point of return

A reimbursement method for customers who have paid upfront is the ‘refund at the point of return’ option, which puts the money back in their account when the first ’return’ scan is applied to the parcel at the drop-off point. Although not currently widespread, this method is growing in popularity and our research revealed that an overwhelming 90% of shoppers will order more frequently from a retailer that offers a refund at the point of return.

As the shopper sends advance notification, this service also gives the retailer greater visibility of the items being returned to stock, and by reimbursing the consumer straight away, it enables faster repeat custom.

However, it’s worth bearing in mind that refunding customers at the point of return, is likely to result in an increased level of returns.

Again, fashion labels ASOS and Arcadia are leading the way by adopting this model and it will be interesting to watch this area develop and see if more retailers choose to add it to their online returns offering.

Collect from home services

Collect from home services were highly favoured in our research, with 38% of shoppers surveyed naming it as their preferred returns method. One retail brand leading the way with this option is John Lewis, which offers a free home collection service for those looking to send back unwanted items. For customers in rural areas, who may need to drive or take public transport to reach their nearest retail outlet, this option is hugely convenient and 45% of over 55s said they are most likely to choose this service.

Offering a restricted time window in which the item will be collected is key to ensuring this scheme is convenient for customers, and our research has shown that two hours is optimal. As with deliveries, clear communication and tracking is also essential to ensure a positive customer experience.

Return via parcel points

Returns services via local parcel points continue to be popular with shoppers. By offering services such as this, retailers give customers the flexibility to drop off their return at a time and place that suits their busy lifestyles. Convenience is the key word here and demand for this type of service shows no sign of dwindling.

On-demand return services

Partnering with courier services could satisfy the demands of the fast-paced, digitally-driven retail culture of today. The use of apps can facilitate on-demand returns via courier in very short time windows.

While a substantial investment, such an offering can lead to excellent levels of customer satisfaction and loyalty.

The one thing we can be sure of…. online returns are here to stay

Research from CollectPlus reveals that Brits have collectively already spent a staggering £9.1bn updating their wardrobes for 2018. With over half admitting that they’ll be returning at least one item, online retailers need to ensure that they’re hitting the mark when it comes to offering returns services to shoppers and that they are consistently innovating to stay ahead of the competition.

With the right mix, returns can help retailers to boost sales and attract a growing base of loyal customers, who will come back time and time again for a fast and convenient online shopping experience.


[1] Survey conducted by Maru/eDR in December 2017, with a nationally representative sample of 2,000 regular online shoppers.


By: Neil Ashworth, Chief Commercial Officer, Yodel

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