Online gifting: designing for seamless returns

Facilitating returns isn’t easy, but with the right technologies and strategic vision, you can support customers and improve retention.

A rollercoaster with parcels on the track.

In December, with a third national lockdown looming, many people took to online gifting as to ensure their loved ones received presents in time for the festive season.

However, our study on returns shows that nearly 50% of UK consumers have returned or are planning to return a gift they received during this period. With the average amount of returned items set to be £20. This is a big increase in both the number of people looking to return gifts and the total value of gifts people are looking to return.

With logistics providers and supply chains already under pressure and shops shut, easy and expedient ways to return gifts from home are an absolute necessity. However, too many retailers still are getting this all wrong for their customers as gifting remains a neglected part of the eCommerce ecosystem, one which is lagging behind in terms of investment in favour of digital advertising and marketing spend

Based on the data from our survey, we’ve formed five recommendations for retailers on how to create seamless returns experiences that add brand value. Without taking these suggestions seriously, retailers could have swathes of disgruntled customers on their hands, just as we saw last year with the poor cancellation processes that travel operators used in the wake of the initial lockdown.  

An image highlighting online gifting stats mentioned in the text.
Getting started with returns

Beginning with a service blueprint mapping exercise is an excellent jumping off point when thinking about returns. This involves mapping all of the touchpoints a customer has to engage with to make a return after receiving a gift from your brand. Doing this now is a must, given that many elements of your company’s returns policies were not designed under lockdown conditions.

Five tips for a guaranteeing a great returns experience:

1. Simplify returns

Great returns experiences typically put the least possible onus on the person returning the item. Relying on things like printers for customers to return items isn’t feasible in times like these. We recommend digitising as much of the returns experience as possible or providing the documentation required to return the item in the packaging. This includes making the packaging itself part of the return.

2. Make returns widely available

Offer multiple ways for people to drop off an item for return i.e. in a local supermarket, at a Post Office. Building on this, what about going one step further and providing a free recollection service from their home by a courier working on behalf of your business. This offers people multiple means to facilitate a return and caters for those who are uncomfortable with or unable to leave their homes at the moment.

3. Allow in-store purchases to be returned by other means

Allowing in-store purchases to be returned by other systems and means is a must. Messages like ‘28 days from when a store reopens’ are not useful to people who have no clear idea when reopening may occur, and who may be left out of pocket or in need of a replacement for the gift they received. Open up points of service that help people get items back to you before your physical stores reopen. 

4. Provide status updates

Clearly articulate how long the returns process will take upfront and regularly update the returner on the status of their return; from when it leaves their hands up until the point at which the money is credited to them. Just as you would as part of fulfilling an online purchase. 

5. Invest in the right infrastructure  

Many vendors will have bolstered their online presence and the infrastructure underpinning it to deal with increased demand and fulfilment. However, they may have not invested in the infrastructure underpinning returns in the same way. With returns likely to be higher than average for some time to come, retailers must invest in the logistics and technologies that support returns experiences for more customers. If a returns experience is offline due to user volume or disintegrates when too many items are being returned, then you need to improve your infrastructure or risk customer backlash. 

Summing up

It’s important that returns experiences are easily accessible with multiple ways to return with the greatest possible speed and ease. Displaying returns options clearly, and ensuring they’re findable online will improve the experience your customers have when returning their gifts.

Whatever you do, don’t neglect your returns experience, treat it as a product in its own right. And remember: any experience is only good as its weakest point. Any negative experience can affect the likelihood of future custom.

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