The power of compromise: why free returns aren’t always realistic

3 minute read

Over the past few years, Canadian e-commerce merchants have been taking steps to improve their returns experience by enhancing the clarity, simplicity and convenience of their returns policies. Yet there’s still a gap between online shopper expectations and reality. Online shoppers want to return their products for free, while most merchants still require them to pay for return shipping.

The reality is: for many merchants, it’s not realistic to offer free returns shipping. Consider scenarios where product quality is great, but the online shopper ordered the wrong size, more than they needed, or their expectations didn’t align with product reality. Our recent survey of Canadian online shoppers found that although they value free returns, they’re usually willing to share the cost of return shipping in scenarios where they’re returning the product due to fit or misaligned expectations.

Making sure you state who pays for return shipping upfront in your policy is a good way to set expectations. Our research tells us that online shoppers are generally willing to split return shipping costs with merchants if their portion of the cost is fair, based on the reasoning behind the return.

The power of compromise

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If the clothing doesn’t fit, return shipping cost can be split

When buying clothing or footwear, online shoppers are more likely to order different sizes and colours to decide which items they like best. They may not have time or access to a local retail location to experience a product in person before they purchase from your online store. In this scenario, they’re usually willing to share the cost as the ability to return lets them explore the right look and fit, and ultimately, be satisfied with their purchase.

This scenario presents an interesting opportunity for e-commerce merchants to help online shoppers make informed purchase decisions, and encourage them to make repeat purchases.

Defective merchandise? Poor quality? Shoppers want merchants to cover returns

On the other hand, online shoppers believe they shouldn’t have to cover returns costs if the wrong item is delivered or the merchandise is defective. Retailers that cover the cost of replacing defective products earn the trust of online shoppers. Their action has the potential to inspire future purchases.

Alternative strategies to sharing return costs

So, what do these scenarios mean for merchants developing their returns policies? As you read earlier, our survey revealed that nearly half of online shoppers would buy from a merchant that offered discounted return delivery costs. But what’s important to note is that most of them would be willing to share the cost. The takeaway? Meeting in the middle can mean a world of a difference for growing a loyal online shopper base.

By evaluating their online shopper base and product offering, merchants can best determine which returns scenarios apply to them and which strategies they could implement to develop a returns program that benefits both their business and their online shopper.

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