7 Ways To Improve Your Online Retail Returns

By: Charlotte Monk-Chipman

A greater focus than ever is now being placed on providing a top-notch shopping journey for customers – with a visually-impactful website that’s able to offer a seamless and straightforward process to buy. But one piece of the jigsaw puzzle is still missing among many retailers’ offering – and that’s returns.

This article will offer 7 ways to improve your online retail returns.

The Background

Online retailing is well and truly thriving as a sector, having grown by £18bn to £133bn in 2016, thanks in part to the ongoing technological advancements invested in by retailers to make it as easy as possible for customers to browse online at their convenience. However, without an impressive overall buying experience, customers can be ripe for the picking from competitors.

They’ve long been considered a necessary evil of selling online, with some bad return policies leaving a sour taste in customers’ mouths. But that’s beginning to change as returns are being recognised globally as a way to really impress customers at the last ‘hurdle’ – so much so that they are actually motivated to buy from the same shop knowing that if they need to return again, the process is simple.

67% of shoppers review the returns policy before checking out. There are proven benefits of implementing a returns policy that wows them – including building brand loyalty, trust and subsequently, repeat purchases.

According to CNBC 2012, offering free returns can boost online purchases by 357%, and increasing the timeframe in which the modern shopper can return will better accommodate for their busy lives.

Returns showcase to customers that their purchase is hugely valued, and a good overall experience which will leave them eager to shop again

While many brands work to attract customers, returns are becoming the solution for keeping them.

Here are seven ways to improve your online retail returns offering.

1. Offer ease of navigation

Making your customers’ shopping journey as straightforward as possible will ensure that they push the final buy button instead of abandoning ship and going elsewhere. And, while many brands try to hide or disguise their returns pages – seeing them as a problem rather than an opportunity – a large majority (67%) of shoppers are looking for returns policy details before they even browse your goods.

So if your process for returns is easy and hassle-free, why not shout about it? Aiming to reduce the number of ‘moves’ it takes to get from the landing page to the returns page – on desktops, tablets and mobiles – rather than hiding them deep in the website, will provide customers with quick and simple reassurance before they click the checkout button.

Our returns study shows that on average, it takes three ‘moves’ to navigate to a retailer’s return policy on a desktop, four moves on a mobile phone, and three moves on a tablet device. The current leaders in this field, with just two moves, include H&M, Harvey Nichols, and Schuh.

2. Customise by country

When your customers find your policy, what’s the message that greets them?  This metric is about the availability of different tailored policies for different markets.

Whether you’re UK-based or have a presence overseas, you have to recognise country-wide differences and have a tailored local returns policy in place based on where your customers are returning from.

Anticipating what they might think and feel when reading your policy will help you mitigate any potential turn-offs – for example, pretend that you’re a customer based in one of your markets, and see what options you have available.

When it comes to providing tailored policies for different parts of the world, ASOS, MatchesFashion.com, and Paul Smith are prime examples of how to make the most of an opportunity – with 20+ varying policies available to their customers. Those with a simple blanket returns statement for all shoppers currently include Ann Summers, Freemans.com and Zara.

3. Present a timescale

If you want your customers to be motivated to buy from you, putting them under pressure to return goods to you quickly – even within the industry’s average 14-day window – isn’t going to put you on the best footing.

Many brands are recognising the need to move away from this small window to meet the growing demands of customers and offer them an addition level of flexibility to return which fits around their busy lives.

Four retailers have taken it to the unbeatable level of returns timescale, which include Hollister, Lands’ End, Orvis and Rohan who each offer unlimited global returns. Compared to the first quarter of 2016, there has been an 8% decline in the number of retailers advertising different returns periods to account for longer transit times in markets further afield (from 10% in 2016 to just 2% in 2017).

4. Reduce the cost of returns

Nobody wants to buy something then realise that they’ll have to dig into their own pockets again in order to get the goods delivered back to the retailer if they’re just not right. But many customers have to do this, and it has been shown to impact the likelihood of repeat purchases.

Some say that’s just part of the risk with shopping online, but it doesn’t have to be. Customers want loyalty to work both ways, and if you can’t provide that as a brand, they are ripe for the picking by your competitors.

5. Make a refund promise

This metric reveals the biggest variant between brands – some provide a clear promise while others don’t give their customers anything near. But as the metric which reveals your brand’s commitment to customers’ happiness, it’s such an important one to get right.

There isn’t a current industry standard for refund promises, so the distinction can be blurred between how long it will take you (operationally) to process the return once received and how long it’ll take the bank to process the refund, leaving your customers in the dark. But it’s one that will have a big impact on your consumers’ behaviour, with most typically waiting for the refund to be processed in full before they come back to buy again (or indeed buy from your competitors).

6. Provide a policy reminder

One of the biggest perceived risks faced when shopping online is how to go about returning something if the shopper changes their mind. Removing this risk and showing them that you have them covered is vital in ensuring they go through with their purchase.

It’s not just about displaying it in small print either, it’s about shouting about your returns process on each of the three most important areas – the product page, basket and checkout – where they’ll most likely need some reassurance.

And with 24% of the top fashion brands currently not reminding their customers of their returns policy at any of the three stages of purchase, and a large proportion of those who do only offering a reminder once or twice, there’s nothing stopping your brand from truly leading the way.

7. Offer a choice of returns method

Your customers want to have the freedom not only to buy from you, but in how they return to you too. And it’s been proven that the more options they have available to them, the more likely they are to go ahead and buy.

You’ll already know that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work, so why not let your shoppers choose themselves? We know that returning items to the nearest store is now the most popular method of returns, followed closely by courier collection and local address. Do you offer different methods, and if not, what’s stopping you?


Gone are the days when returns were considered the ‘dark downfall’ of online retail – they are a huge opportunity and always will be, because returns won’t stop happening. It’s just how brands handle their returns that makes or breaks them. Ultimately, it’s not about encouraging people to make returns, but reassuring them that if they do need to, it couldn’t be any simpler.


To download a free copy of the Great Returns Race results to see how some of the biggest brands are performing in returns, please visit http://www.reboundreturns.com/returns-benchmark.

By: Charlotte Monk-Chipman - Head of Marketing at ReBOUND


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