Returns: A Roadblock For Online Retailers?

Efforts to push purchases were once the considered ‘the end result’ of the sales pipeline. However, savvy marketing departments are now prioritising the overall customer experience and addressing the changing needs of shoppers. Part of this means viewing ‘returns’ from a different perspective – because a good returns policy can turn unwanted purchases into brand loyalty.
But when there are inevitable costs and time constraints involved from a retailer’s POV, it’s hard to think of returns as a ‘win’. So let’s look at several perceived ‘negatives’ associated with returns and consider ways to transform them into ‘positives’. Fact it that customers expect some basic facts from an online retail returns policy.

Car with "retail" on the side drives the street named "success". Ahead of it theres a roadblock which says "returns"

Are returns the roadblock for becoming a successful online retailer?

Problem 1: Creating A Returns Policy

Not having a returns policy could well be more problematic than having one. But that means writing one from scratch! Where do you start? Well, first you need to figure out the circumstances in which your business would accept them (Damaged goods? Unwanted items?), how long the returns window will be, and whether you’ll swap like-for-like, offer credit notes, or give full cash refunds. So much to think about!

Solution 1: Make It Into A Customer Service Plus

A simple, intuitive returns policy reduces the need for customer support, which for a business equates to fewer service staff. It’s also a calling card for many online retailers – and is one of the first things a lot of customers check before shopping in many cases. So get it right and then let everyone know where to find your returns policy – don’t hide it away in some forgotten corner of your website!

Problem 2: Cost Of Returns

Returns are a big overhead – let’s just admit that. Postage. Packaging. Logistics. Refunds. And these are just the obvious expenses. But then there’s the time cost too – the co-ordination, repackaging, pickup scheduling  – and the financial impact of needing to employ additional staff to handle returns specifically too. It all adds up.

Solution 2: Focus On Retention

According to reports, it costs five times more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one. So why do more businesses prioritise acquisition over retention – especially when it’s almost 60% easier to sell to existing customers than new ones – ? Where the customer experience is concerned, it’s important for retailers to be easy to do business with. Get a good reputation among existing customers and the new ones will follow.

44% of retailers focus on customer acquisition - 18% focus on customer retention

There’s a big disparity between acquisition and retention spending.

Problem 3: Communicating Updates

Customers can be impatient. So they need to be kept in the loop on what’s happening. It’s not enough to simply wait for them to come to you. Many companies rely on a ‘log in and track progress’ system, which can mitigate constant questions. Others offer real-time customer service – either through an on-site plugin, chatbot, or social media messenger. But sometimes, going to such lengths can feel like overkill. How much is too much?

Solution 3: Use Updates As A Marketing Channel

A simple series of emails informing customers of their purchase’s progress, at every major milestone, is a great low effort way of maintaining the right level of contact. But that’s not all. A nicely designed, branded message can also be an excellent way of showcasing your brand in other ways too. For example, emails might include a link to your company’s latest blog post, or details of upcoming promotions or events.


Putting customer needs first might sound obvious, but in practice it can be difficult to perfect.
Ultimately, there’s no secret ingredient or shortcut to getting returns right. Overcoming the ‘Returns Roadblock’ is simply a matter of taking on the customer’s perspective and asking some honest questions about how your company wants to be seen as a retailer, and what kind of customer experience you want to create. And if you can crack that, you’ll soon break through those barriers.

About the Author: Katharine
Katharine is Head of Marketing Communications - EMEA. An avid shopper, Katharine is passionate about helping retailers understand the importance of efficient post-purchase communications. When she isn’t looking for the latest trends for our blog, Katharine loves discovering new restaurants in London.