The Great Delivery and Returns Battleground – Part Two

A few posts ago we started to look at why delivery and returns are such an Achilles’ heel for retailers. In part two, James concludes his look at delivery and further investigates examples of retailers who provide an excellent delivery and returns service.

5. Making returns as easy as 1-2-3

Don’t make customers struggle to send items back to you.

The key challenge is to make returns easy. You need to satisfy the essentials:

  • Clear and easy to follow returns policy
  • The policy is easy to access online with FAQ to answer common enquiries
  • Include a returns label in the original parcel or allow customers to process a return online and then print a returns label/note
  • Make it clear what costs are involved and when they are charged e.g. if customer has to pay for postage of the return
  • Provide a Customer Service email address and phone number for enquiries (Live Chat if you can support it)
  • Ensure your social media channels are integrated with Customer Services so any queries raised via Twitter, Facebook etc get handled promptly (sometimes this requires an internal SLA e.g. Returns issue raised on Twitter will be responded to by a CSA within X hours)
  • Ensure you have an effective goods-in process for processing returns and triggering refunds

You don’t have to offer free returns on every order. There are legal requirements to adhere to but you don’t have an obligation to absorb the costs when people simply change their mind. However, many of the large retailers do this. The decision comes down to affordability and long-term benefit. Is the added cost of providing free returns offset by increased order frequency and value from happy customers?

You need to think about customer perception when detailing your returns policy. For example, Wiggle’s returns instructions explain, “All used items must be cleaned before returning to us, we cannot deal with any dirty items and they will be returned to you”. Is this really a logical? What about a recent order we placed where two of the items were faulty – the product split along the seams. It obviously can’t be resold, so why would it need to be cleaned?

6. Connecting the dots in multi-channel

The complexity of handling delivery and returns increases for multi-channel retailers. The following challenges are raised:

  • How do you integrate online and offline for a seamless customer experience?
  • What technology do you need in place to manage the process?
  • What logistics are required to ensure orders are accurately managed?
  • How do you ensure all store staff are properly trained to handle cross-channel orders?

House of Fraser has embraced multi-channel to provide customers with a reliable service. The Buy & Collect service is a good example – you can order online and arrange delivery to any store you want. Order progress is communicated clearly at each step via email and SMS, if you provide a mobile number. As soon as the order is available in-store, you get a final confirmation including the order number.

Buy & Collect at House of Fraser

What stands House of Fraser apart is the in-store experience. There is clear signage throughout the store and staff are well trained to help people. At the Buy & Collect desk, staff know exactly what to do and the technology is in place to ensure order details are at hand. Then, if you’re not satisfied with your items, you can return in-store to avoid having to arrange for a courier or visit the post office. Simple and easy. However, this process is strained during peak trading when volumes increase dramatically – companies need to know the ‘break points’ to help plan for the future.

John Lewis is another great example. In a recent interview with Econsultancy, Sean O’Connor, Head of Online Delivery and Customer Experience, explained that they experienced a 70% year-on-year increase in 2012 in the use of Click & Collect. Over Christmas, the business extended this service right up to December 23rd at 19.00.

7. Exceeding statutory requirements

 Distance Selling Regulations require retailers to provide a 7-day cooling-off period for online purchases. But is 7 days really enough to satisfy customers?

What if the customer is away on holiday for 2 weeks?

What if there is an unforeseen problem that means they miss the 7-day deadline?

In a busy world, 7 days is not very forgiving. Many retailers go way beyond this to give customers peace of mind. Zappos is the best example, providing 365-day free returns for all domestic (US) orders. And get this – if you order on 29th February in a leap year, you have until 29th February of the next leap year to return your items!

The generosity of your policies also reflects on your brand. How do you want customers to perceive your business? Going the extra mile can often reassure people that you’re a reliable and trustworthy business.

If we take the example of the retailer below, the policy information is written in a formal tone that doesn’t communicate a high quality service. There is limited information and no contact details for people who have more questions.

Policy Information

The lesson – don’t just tick boxes.

8. Co-ordination across the business

Quality consistency across the business is essential, so that each touch point a customer has with your company provides a positive and consistent experience. This means ensuring that all customer-facing teams are fully trained on delivery & returns policy and procedure.

The following can be overlooked in the busy world of retail:

  • Ensuring all channels are tied-up to central customer service framework
  • Understanding how customers use social media to make enquiries/complaints.
  • Importance of staff training.

Our recommendation – treat delivery & returns as a KPI and educate internal teams on the importance to the business, then ensure that they have adequate training to understand the policy and know how to implement it. To facilitate this, you need to make sure the technology and process is in place to support people.

Comments and questions

What do you think of our views on why delivery and returns is a key ecommerce battleground for 2013 and beyond? Please drop by and share your comments, questions and experience. Please also share any relevant links you think readers would be interested in.