January 19, 2001, 12:00 AM

Cheaper, Quicker & Easier Returns

Few shoppers actually return items purchased from online sites, and those that do are not so dissatisfied with the return process that it adversely affects future shopping behavior with that specific retailer, says a recent survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers, Columbus, Ohio. Many more, however, would make a return, but are turned off by the expense and hassle of the process. To enhance customer satisfaction with the return process, online retailers should aim to make the process cheaper, quicker and easier for the online shopper, says the survey.

Only 4% of online purchasers reported returning their most recent online purchase, and some 29% have ever returned a nonbusiness product purchased from an online shopping site, PWC says. But 41% of online purchasers have wanted to return a product purchased from an online shopping site, but decided that it was just too much of a hassle to do so, it adds. For online retailers, the implication is that return rates are not the best measure of customer dissatisfaction with an online purchase.

The most common complaint among Internet users with regard to returns is having to pay for return postage. When asked to identify the three biggest problems associated with returning online purchases, two-thirds of Internet users identified having to pay for return postage. Nearly half of respondents identified the fact that returning an online purchase requires a trip to the post office, UPS or FedEx pickup location. Not being able to return products to a store came in as the third biggest problem, says PWC, demonstrating the inherent advantage enjoyed by multi-channel retailers.

Internet users expect most online shopping sites to offer numerous fulfillment capabilities, says the survey. Email communication capabilities top the list, with 75% or more respondents indicating that they expect most online retailers to use email to verify order receipt, order shipment and to advise of any products placed on back order. Email capabilities are especially important to online purchasers who have ever returned a product, suggesting that satisfaction with this capability may be necessary for repeat business, the survey indicates.

Nearly half of respondents expect most online retailers to provide the option of returning products to a local store. This factor was significantly more likely to be identified by Internet users who wanted to return an online purchase, but decided that it was too much of a hassle. Not being able to return a product to a bricks-and-mortar store is clearly a hassle for some online purchasers, says PWC.

More often than not, the research shows, online purchasers making returns are not so dissatisfied with the return process that it adversely affects future shopping behavior with that specific retailer. More than half of online purchasers who have returned products indicate that their return experience at a specific online shopping site had no affect on their future shopping behavior at that site; however, one in three also said that they are less likely to shop at that specific online shopping site.

Offline shopping behavior is even less likely to be affected by undesirable experiences online, the survey shows. Only 17% indicate that their return experience at a specific online shopping site negatively affected the likelihood of them shopping at that specific company's stores or catalogs.

Reasons for Returning Online Purchases Among
Respondents That Have Ever Returned A Product*
Product not what I expected 40%
Product broken/damaged 31%
Product quality not as expected 31%
Right product shipped, but wrong characteristics 27%
Wrong product shipped 26%
Decided that I simply did not want product 19%
Arrived too late 17%
Received only part of an order7%
*Multiple responses accepted.

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