Returns are an unavoidable part of eCommerce. Even with the help of photos, it can be hard to judge the fit, colour and size of products online, and the speed of one-click checkouts makes it all too easy for customers to buy something they’ll come to regret as soon as the order (or their bank statement) arrives. 

According to Australia Post, an estimated one in three fashion items bought online are ultimately returned. As an online retailer, it can be tempting to discourage returns, since you may not be able to sell returned items at full price, and even if you can, it takes time and money to process them. 

But making it easy for customers to make a return is important, since it can have a big impact on customer satisfaction. According to the US-based returns company Rebound, 60% of 18-25 year olds have stopped shopping with a brand after a negative returns experience. That’s the case for 57% of 26-35 year olds and 50% of 36-45 year olds as well. 

With returns about to explode following the annual rise in online shopping around the holidays, there’s no better time to review your policy and process to make sure they measure up to current customer expectations. 

Make your policy clear and flexible

According to UPS, 53% of Aussie online shoppers will consider your returns policy before making a purchase, so you should make sure you’re not giving potential customers a reason to click away. 

An ideal policy provides a generous returns window (at least 30 days), full refund for ‘change of mind’ returns (not just for faulty items) and possibly even free shipping (if you can afford it). Remember that the cost of a return could be offset if a customer decides to shop with you in future, so a positive experience is important. 

Pro tip: Consider extending your standard returns window on purchases made in December. If a customer is considering buying someone a gift that won’t be opened for a few weeks, they’ll appreciate knowing it can still be returned or exchanged in the new year.

Make it quick and easy to request a return

For all the ease of online shopping, the process of making a return can still be somewhat fiddly. Some retailers require customers to fill out a downloadable form and explain why they’re making the return, or request a return label by email. Customers might need to track down an order number and find a printer to complete this process, not to mention make time to go to the post office. 

Making it easy to lodge returns online and including pre-paid return labels in your orders can go a long way to simplifying the returns process. Going one step further and offering to have a courier collect a return from the customer’s doorstep will really set you head-and-shoulders above the rest.

Pro tip: Try automating the returns process with Shippit’s self-service portal. You can customise it with your branding and specific rules for returns, and customers can download a return label themselves, and choose whether they want to drop it off at the post office, or book a courier to collect it.

Take steps to minimise the cost of returns

While it’s important to accept that returns happen, that doesn’t mean you can’t take some common sense steps to reduce the rate (and cost) of returns. 

Fit is one of the biggest reasons that items are returned, so consider providing as much information as possible on the product page. Sharing specific size measurements will enable customers to compare an item to something they have at home, and saying what size clothing a model is wearing and what their measurements are will help customers choose the right size for them. 

If you have bricks-and-mortar stores, make it possible to book returns online and drop them off in-store. Not only is this convenient for customers, they might be more likely to exchange their order, rather than return it, if they can try on items in a different size. And they might add something new to their cart while they’re there.

Pro tip: Try giving customers extra value if they choose to receive their return amount as store credit rather than cash. This way, you’re guaranteed to get a repeat purchase.