Over the last few years, 3rd December has had a higher returns rate than any other day in the calendar year - over 143%. Obviously, this is the aftermath of Black Friday.
Black Friday is a day of impulse - customers see deals that are available for a limited amount of time, or in a limited quantity, and jump at the chance. They may do this a few times across a few of their favourite outlets: Amazon, Apple, clothing outlets such as Nike...even at bargain prices, the purchases can really stack up.
After a few days and the dust has settled, the purchases start to arrive...and the euphoria has worn off slightly. The customer no longer sees a bargain buy, but a product they don't actually need. They weigh up which purchases really matter, and those that they reconsider, they send back.
In 2021, as many as 1 in 3 shoppers have this experience; it's estimated that this equates to 30 million unwanted goods being returned. As IMRG put it, it's time to forget about Black Friday and start thinking about Returns Thursday!
Obviously those figures are pretty daunting - but you don't need to worry! We've got some returns management tips to help you set expectations, cope with demand and even turn your returns into a retention marketing strategy.
Coherent Returns Policy
Sometimes, your returns policy can speak even louder than your product catalogue. This may sound ridiculous, but 67% of consumers actually check the returns policy of a company before even considering a purchase.
This shows it's a huge deal, and the quality of what you're selling will be lost on them if they're put off by your returns policy. It's vital to have an easily accessible and easy to understand returns policy. Back it up with FAQs and live chat support so you can alleviate any concerns potential customers may have.
(If customers can expect their returns to take longer than usual due to Black Friday volumes, make sure to update your Returns Policy with this information to temper expectations!)
A further 58% of surveyed consumers also said they expected their returns to be no questions asked. Understandably, you may not want to make this decision - this can provide valuable insight into whether it's 'you' or 'them' that has the issue.
This is ultimately up to you, but it's probably worth noting that one of the biggest issues consumers have with specifying reasons is it adding extras steps to the process, or making a simple process more confusing. A coherent and easily accessible returns policy and portal can go someway to alleviating these concerns, and ensuring customers know exactly what to expect.
Smooth Returns Process
As we've already covered, the reason for a return can be due to a number of things. Personal preference, spending beyond their means...or it could be something that needs a slight tweak. Maybe the colour, size or style wasn't quite right. This return could make way for another sale, so it's essential that the process is as smooth as possible.
Think of this as an audition. If this is a customer's first purchase, they'll be scrutinising every step of the buyer journey. How you interact with them post-checkout, how effectively you communicate tracking information...and how quick and easy returns are.
If it's a long and arduous process, they're unlikely to readily buy from you again. On the other hand, if they arrange a return quickly and easily, it's more likely they'll stick with you until they find something that works for them. 92% of consumers are likely to buy from you again if you nail the returns process. So what can you do to make this process as smooth as possible?
- Returns Options: All customers are different, and their needs can vary. A good way to ensure satisfaction with your returns process is giving them the flexibility to return their item in whichever way is easiest for them. A combination of using returns lockers, dropping off at collection points and home collection helps cover all bases.
ASOS, for example, allows you to select your choice of returns carrier from options such as Royal Mail, Evri and Yodel (Collect+), based on proximity and ease of access for you. This is a great example of customer-first returns etiquette.
- No Printing: Technology has evolved dramatically over the years, and we've had men on the moon- yet somehow we've still never got printers quite right. Not connecting to devices, paper jams...basically, they're a pain in the proverbial.
Anything you can do that means your customer doesn't have to print the returns label themselves is a guaranteed plus point. This could mean including a self-adhesive returns label in the package initially, or giving customers a QR code that can be scanned at a drop-off point and printed for them.
- Make your Mark: Even if the sale isn't final, the impression you make could be. The unboxing experience tells the story of your brand and ethos. A theatrical experience, a personal handwritten note, some added extras like stickers...maybe tell them even if they're returning their item, they can keep the extras.
You could also use this opportunity to provide them with unique offers - perhaps personalised based on the first purchase. These offers will incentivise them to shop with you again, and this may be the sale that sticks!
Gear up for 'Returns Thursday'
Black Friday comes and goes each year, and it's likely you've learned as a business by now how to prepare for the day itself. Ensuring that you're adequately staffed and stocked, having an effective strategy to communicate offers with your customers...this is all basic common sense.
But this should be only half of your planning. It's an inevitability that not all of the sales you make on Black Friday will be final, so ensuring you have a robust returns system is incredibly important if you want to retain these customers beyond their returns.
With an already record 129% year-on-year increase in return volumes from 2019 to 2022, you can't afford not to solidify your returns strategy before Black Friday 2023 rolls around. If you're not happy with your current returns management solution - talk to us! Shiptheory are currently rolling out our new returns management solution, and we'd love to speak to you.
If you're interested in more content focused around returns, check out this piece on how large retailers such as Next, Boohoo and Zara are starting to charge for returns, and whether this is the future for all eCommerce stores. And if you're more interested in Black Friday content, check out this blog on the growing movement behind Green Friday!