Have you ever tried to return something unwanted only to have a difficult time doing so? Were you less likely to purchase from that company again as a result?
Savvy retailers know that a smooth return process is a major factor in customer retention. While returning an item is never fun, it can be made more tolerable through a straightforward return and exchange process. This is especially true for online retailers.
The use of an interactive returns portal, offering pre-paid return labels and the ability to look up past purchases are some of the ways online merchants can make the process more enjoyable.
It’s also worth noting that more and more retailers who operate multi-channel operations are differentiating their return process by offering unique shopping and returns experiences in store. For example, Apple offers a bright, modern storefront filled with experts to differentiate themselves as more and more traffic moves to online shopping.
To give a sense of which major retailers offer the best policies we rounded up 24 of the top online retailers and analyzed their return policies. We broke them up according to industry to offer a better comparison between like companies.
Department stores traditionally have fairly lax return policies with companies like Nordstrom leading the way with their unlimited returns policy. When it comes to online returns they stand out with their interactive, free returns and quick refund turnaround.
Macy’s and Kohl’s also make it easy for their customers to return items with a relaxed return window. J.C. Penney is the only department store that’s behind the times when it comes to interactive return policies and they don’t make up for it in any of the other categories.
L Brands, which includes famed lingerie retailer Victoria’s Secret, holds the longest return window and shortest refund time, but their lack of an interactive and free returns hinders their customers ability to make returns easily.
In fact, it looks like apparel brands are behind the times when it comes to interactive return policies except for Gap and Urban Outfitters. Return windows sit around the standard 30-90 days and most companies offer refunds upon receipt.
Amazon, who is known for their incredibly convenient shipping policies have an equally easy return policy. With a smooth interactive return portal and fast refund time, customers can easily return items purchased on Amazon.
Costco is known for their unlimited return window but the analog nature of their return policy encourages customers to return in-store. Wal-Mart and Target know their customer base will likely be making online returns and they have made the process easy with their return policy.
Most activewear companies we studied had a fairly difficult to navigate return policy. Nike was the only company who offered interactive and free returns.
However, Lands’ End, Foot Locker, and Dick’s Sporting Goods all had fairly generous return windows which encourages customers to visit the store and make returns and exchanges.
QVC and Home Shopping Network make the large majority of their sales through telephone and e-commerce transactions, yet their return policies were not very generous.
Apple, the only electronics store with high e-commerce revenue on our list, had a smooth and well-outlined return policy.
What makes a “good” return policy?
The convenience of online shopping can be made inconvenient with a difficult return policy. E-commerce companies can make the process more convenient for customers by reducing the time and effort it will take them to make the return.
Having an easy to find and understand return policy is a great place to start for retailers who want to boast a smooth return process. A policy that clearly states the number of days a customer has to return the item is also important. Retailers can also make the stipulations associated with the return known upfront.
A company can stand out by streamlining the process with an interactive return policy that allows customers to look up prior purchases, including their receipt. Offering paid postage and a quick turn-around time also makes the process more convenient for the customer.
The importance of a smooth return policy.
After the 2017 holiday season we surveyed over 1,000 people to find out how many returned gifts they received that year. 28% of people returned at least one gift, indicating that between 25% and 30% of customers will be interacting with online return policies during the holiday season alone.
Ensuring that these customers associate a positive experience with their chosen e-commerce vendor is important. In a Harris poll, as many as 91 percent of respondents said that a store’s return policy was important when making a purchasing decision.
Return policies should be seen as a marketing tool as well as a retail standard. This is especially true in the e-commerce fields where customers rely on an image and description of a product rather than seeing it for themselves.
Having a clear returns policy that favors the customer can help increase sales because customers value it so heavily. Retailers who operate with transparency when it comes to returns can reap the benefits of a trusting and loyal customer base.
**We define an interactive return process as one that is done completely through the retailer’s web portal. These processes are all slightly different but most allow the consumer to access their online receipt, request a return and access a return label all without interacting with a person.**