Streamlined return policies can grow LTV for mobile retailers

Building brand loyalty, especially in a crowded landscape of online and mobile retailers, isn’t solely about discounts (although, as we discussed in a recent post, deals certainly don’t hurt in building lifetime value). Brands need to ensure they are giving consumers all the attention they want at every stage of the buyer journey -- even when customers are looking to make the dreaded return or exchange.

While it may seem counterintuitive, making it easier for customers to change their mind about a purchase is critical to giving brands that “human personality” that consumers expect. According to a recent report from Forrester Research, customers are 47 percent more likely to be “very satisfied” with a brand when they talk with their customers rather than at them -- ie. checking in on how a customer feels about a purchase with a tailored push message opposed to a generic “broadcast” notification.

When brands show their human side -- even when a customer might want to return a purchase -- it’s much easier for users to make a return visit and do more shopping in the future, even if they weren’t satisfied with a product the first go-round.

It’s especially important for retailers to show their human side this time of year, as there are roughly $1 trillion of holiday sales at stake, marking the largest holiday shopping season on record. And even with Thanksgiving, Black Friday and the many complementary shopping holidays that lead up to December in the rear view mirror, retailers of all stripes -- from ecommerce operations to brick-and-mortar -- are just seeing their busy season kick into high gear.

New shopping tactics driven by mobile

With more users relying on mobile this shopping season, the likelihood for an influx of returns goes up not necessarily because of dissatisfaction, but because of a not-so-new form of comparison shopping known as “bracketing.”

Bracketing involves a customer ordering multiple versions of a specific product -- especially on mobile and digital channels -- and keeping the one they like best while sending the rest back to the retailer. According to a recent report, 41 percent of online shoppers practice bracketing some of the time, while 51 percent of luxury shoppers do so at an even higher rate.

The most stunning find in the report from retail management platform Narvar was that 95 percent of online buyers would shop again with a brand that made their return policy as seamless as possible.

What return policy turn-offs irk customers most?

The same study found that restocking fees were by far the largest deterrent for shoppers to revisit a brand, according to 83 percent of respondents, with return shipping fees a close second according to 74 percent of those polled.

However, what shoppers value most in the return process is communication rather than ease. For instance, retail behemoth Amazon has a notoriously tricky return process, often requiring users to print out their own labels and having to contact a partner vendor for return authorization at a far higher rate than many smaller retailers. But research found that Amazon shoppers were largely more informed about the timing and stages of their return process versus competitors, giving the brand a 75 percent positive rating among buyers who return products compared to 65 percent of experiences with other brands.

Communication -- as always -- is key

Since keeping customers updated on their return policy trumps even convenience and price a lot of the time, mobile retailers have a great opportunity to capitalize and build on brand loyalty at the return stage of the buyer’s journey.

If shoppers are aware of when they’re refund is on the way, they’re more likely to be patient with a minor delay than having to play a guessing game -- or actively chase their retailer for a response. That being said, shoppers aren’t likely to get annoyed by a spontaneous push message from the app if it’s informative and related to when they’ll see money back in their pockets than they are receiving a generic sales push.

This also gives brands an opportunity to better fine-tune the offers they do ultimately make to consumers. By event tagging things like abandoned carts alongside return requests and repeat purchases, brands could theoretically drive down the instance of bracketing, for instance, by more readily putting relevant products -- driven by size, taste or any number of variables -- at the fore of a buyers dashboard.

A related study from BRP and Windstream Enterprise found that only 8 percent of retailers offered an automated return capability through the website or mobile application, despite being highly sought after by 68 percent of shoppers. If mobile retailers can get ahead of the game in streamlining the return process and making it as user friendly as checkout, they have a great opportunity to foster a loyal customer base while other retailers are still playing catch up.

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