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Takeback Wednesday: Strategies to reduce the spiking volume of returns

6 min read

02 January 2019

Deputy Editor, Real Business

With 80% of people expected to return their Christmas presents today, five experts unveil their long-term strategies for keeping products in the hands of consumers.

The second day of January marks “takeback Wednesday,” where 80% of Christmas presents are expected to be returned.

This statistic comes from a Royal Mail report. It claims 75% of people will return clothes. Some 42% of electrical goods will be sent back as well.

With the research in mind, five experts tell Real Business that reducing the volume of returns for the same period in 2020 needs to be at the top of online retailers’ priorities. 

Here, they unveil measures you can implement in the months leading up to Christmas.

How to remove takeback Wednesday from the map

inRiver CMO Steve Gershik suggests companies start by finding out why consumers sent their products back.

Knowing why someone wouldn’t want your product is equally as important as analysing why others love it, he explains.

“If products don’t meet shoppers’ expectations, they’ll be returned instantly. One way to manage these expectations is to make sure customers know exactly what they are purchasing.”

Be as clear as possible in your product description so as to reduce misunderstandings.

This, Gershik suggests, is an area more companies need to improve on.

After all, inRiver’s own survey found that 22% of shoppers believe the products they buy online rarely meet their expectations. As a result, nearly half of the respondents say they always return items.

“Ensure buyers have all the information available to them at the point of purchase and have expert advice on hand to answer any questions that they have,” explains Liam Chapman, financial director at Juice Sauz.

“Some of the aspects that we implemented included extending the time frames that certain contact methods would be manned for immediate response. Like live chat and social media.”

The Christmas period is a time where customers and employees alike want to spend time with family, but having someone available to answer the questions of even the last-minute shoppers is beneficial, Chapman advises.

Even if it means directing calls to your mobile so you can make the most of being at home.

Making the returns process easier

Over half of online shoppers elect not to use a retailer again if the returns process is difficult.

In the long-run, Gershik claims, a loyal customer is more likely to buy if they know they can easily return goods that don’t meet expectations.

Expanding on the point, Matt Guffey, vice president of global industry segments at UPS, says that transparent communication about returns policies can improve conversion rates and bolster profit.

Make sure the policy is easy to find, along with a returns link on the home page. The policy itself should be simple, short and expressed in customer-friendly language, he says.

“And don’t underestimate the power of design,” Guffey adds. “Small formatting changes, such as section breaks, can help customers find the information they need.

“But while having a solid return policy is a plus, the ability to execute on it quickly and efficiently is also essential.”

Transparency also applies beyond policies and descriptions.

Sophie Light-Wilkinson, VP of marketing EMEA at Bazaarvoice, told Real Business that 37% of returns are due to customers not liking a product or the product not fitting.

As a result, fashion not only has the highest return rate of any category, but also the highest rate of “intentional returns” – returns from shoppers who order duplicate items to compare against.

Shoppers are already sceptical of buying online because they prefer to try on, touch or view products in person,” she says.

A good way to mitigate intentional returns is by encouraging previous purchasers to share detailed information about themselves, both through text and photos, when leaving product reviews – even the bad ones.”

This makes it easier for online shoppers to decide to buy or not to buy and will go a long way in reducing returns. Particularly when it comes to clothing, companies can implement a try and then buy scheme.

According to John Zealley, senior managing director at Accenture, companies need to become more hyper-relevant by building a deeper connection “to the empowered consumer.”

“Successful companies will be those who develop a ‘living’ business capability that can sense, respond – and even anticipate – in real-time to ensure relevance for consumers and value for brands,” Zealley explains.

“The continuing emergence of disruptive technologies are offering even greater potential for brands and retailers to reinvent their relationships with consumers and deliver on fluid expectations.”

 Ultimately, if customers feel let down by a retailer, they’ll go elsewhere in the future.