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Grow Your Business Sales & Marketing

Want to Sell More Online? Accept More Returns

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Credit: hxdbzxy/Shutterstock

Customers may love the convenience of shopping online, but many hate the complicated return policies and slow shipping options involved with online purchases. In fact, these days a solid and easy-to-use returns policy is the key to return customers. Some 95 percent of shoppers reported that they would shop again with a retailer that provided a satisfactory returns experience. And if a shopper had already returned something to a retailer, 82 percent confirmed they were a repeat customer. 

According to the study by e-commerce platform Narvar, these numbers are driven largely by affluent shoppers and millennials. More than half of the latter prefer to return online buys in a brick-and-mortar store, and 40 percent of all shoppers are buying multiple items online with the intent to return them. That indicates that online shopping could drive in-store sales later on.

"Retailers have an opportunity to impress and delight customers, especially high-value segments like millennials and affluent shoppers," said Amit Sharma, CEO of Narvar. "These are digital natives who treat returns as a natural part of the buying process and have come to expect convenience and transparent communication. If retailers can meet these high expectations, they can use returns to improve customer satisfaction, inspire loyalty and fuel new revenue streams."

The study indicates that shoppers like returning items to stores so they can get immediate credit (35 percent) and so that they can shop for other items (28 percent). Among millennials, 55 percent say it's easier to return an online purchase in-store because they like to shop for other items on the same trip (38 percent) or get an immediate credit (40 percent). 

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Worried Amazon's complex return policy is hurting you? The e-commerce giant also provides greater transparency into the process. As a result, Amazon shoppers rate their overall satisfaction higher. Some 75 percent of those who returned things to Amazon gave the experience a 4 or 5 on a five-point scale, compared to 70 percent of overall survey respondents. [Interested in e-commerce software for your small business? Check out our best picks.]

But whether retailers like it or not, returns are the new normal. 

"As the study shows, most shoppers are frequently returning online purchases, while remaining loyal to brands if they have a positive experience," said Sucharita Mulpuru, a retail industry analyst who collaborated with Narvar on the study. "Retailers who want to remain competitive will find ways to reduce friction in the returns process, whether that's communicating more updates, providing more transparency, or offering free return shipping."

Narvar's study surveyed nearly 700 U.S. consumers who had returned an online purchase in 2016 to understand people's attitudes toward returns when shopping online.

Additional reporting by David Mielach.

Anna Attkisson

After getting infected with the publishing bug at Wireless World and Cellular Business magazines, Anna Attkisson went on to dabble in all sorts of publications covering everything from children's fashion to financial planning, cars and travel. She then spent 10 years, writing and editing for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide. And now she oversees the editorial planning for Business.com and Business News Daily. She has a B.S. in journalism from the University of Kansas and is passionate about learning.