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The Next Big Thing in Customer Experience: Frictionless Returns

Poornima R Apte
February 19, 2020

3 minute read

Allisyn Deyo had pre-ordered a book from Amazon so it would arrive on the day of release. While the hardcover arrived as expected, it had a sticky substance that stained the spine and a few of the pages. Allisyn, an Eden Prairie, Minnesota resident, requested a shipment of a new copy and a return of the damaged book. “The next morning, on the way back from the gym, I swung by Kohl’s, walked right up to the desk (no line at 11:00 a.m. on a Tuesday) and handed the book over with the QR code on my phone. The new book arrived the next day,” Allisyn said, in an interview for this article, “Piece of cake.”

The Amazon-Kohl’s partnership exemplifies the next frontier in ecommerce where retailer attention is shifting to returns as a way of delivering an outstanding customer experience. Allisyn hates having to box, wrap, and ship returns at the post office and loves having someone else handle the details. Such a frictionless return customer experience is also good news for the brick-and-mortar retailers who host the return kiosks, as they increase foot traffic.

Frictionless returns = elevated customer experience

A difficult return process that mars the CX can make or break a sale: A whopping 67% of millennials like Allisyn will abandon their online purchases if they perceive a difficult return process, according to a Splitit/Google Consumer survey. “If it’s hard to return something, particularly if it’s apparel or something expensive, I will think long and hard about whether it’s worth the hassle,” Allisyn said.

Lisa Fields of Cherry Hill, New Jersey agrees. In an interview, Lisa shared that she sometimes returns apparel to physical stores and views such a policy as a minimum requirement to buy apparel online. Years ago, a children’s apparel item was marked as “online returns only” and Lisa skipped it. “My kids are finicky. If I can’t return clothing to a store, I won’t buy it.”

Such statements worry retailers who might not have the muscle that Amazon does. While it’s clear that the customer experience at every stage of the journey has to be wrinkle-free, how do online retailers create such efficiencies?

Emerging returns solutions

Retailers are increasingly leaning on third-party entities like Happy Returns to handle the returns for them.

Happy Returns sets up processing stations at neighborhood retailers like Paper Source and Bed, Bath & Beyond, and accepts returns just like Kohl’s does for Amazon. Happy Returns aggregates items for shipment, sends them to sorting hubs and on to the retailer’s supply chain. Such consolidation saves retailers up to 20% on shipping costs, said Caitlin Roberson, vice president of marketing. Happy Returns clients include Rothy’s, Everlane, and American Giant, among others.

In an interview for this article, Caitlin said: “Today’s shoppers have higher expectations than ever for a fast and effortless customer experience. Frictionless exchanges and returns make new customers more likely to purchase the first time, and raise the lifetime value of repeat shoppers who are confident in the experience.”

“Easy, fast, free, and sustainable exchanges and returns are very quickly becoming table stakes for retail’s near-term future. In the next 3 years, we predict all retailers will encourage one-click exchanges in their online return flow—and at least one in-person option for returns and exchanges,” Caitlin added.

And such an improved customer experience is good news for all shoppers — including Allisyn and Lisa.

Poornima Apte
Poornima Apte is an engineer turned award-winning writer who loves literary fiction and collecting clouds. Her proudest cloud acquisition so far has been the Kelvin Helmholtz formation she spotted on a routine Target run. Follow her on Twitter @booksnfreshair.
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