How to improve customer experience with better returns messaging

By: Charlotte Monk-Chipman


For modern retailers, getting returns right can be a major challenge. From L.L. Bean’s policy change drama earlier this year to the ongoing debate about shopper preferences and the rise of ‘try before you buy’, there’s a lot of uncertainty over what to offer and how to make the experience as painless as possible.

And it seems, no matter how much retailers try to keep pace with customer demand, it might not be enough.

This article will explain how returns messaging improves customer experience.

Our recent shopper survey found that 31% of shoppers said retailers don’t invest enough in making the returns process easy. Whilst 92% said the returns policies played an important consideration in the purchasing decision. This tells us the opportunity is there for retailers to use their returns to create true differentiation. The results of a first of its kind mystery shopping assessment has revealed that, logistics aside, returns is fast becoming a messaging game.

We commissioned a study through Tern Consultancy to mystery shop 20 retailers and brands across four sectors from a mix of Fashion, Footwear and Beauty to evaluate the returns landscape and how shoppers really feel about the offerings. The survey evaluated the order process, convenience of return methods, friendliness and tone, refund processing and overall brand impression.

Across the 20 retailers and brands, we saw that there is a clear benefit from offering free returns which can increase Net Promoter Scores by an average of 45 points! But free isn’t everything; there are simple changes that any retailer can make without affecting the bottom line.

Net Promoter scores


The clear winners were those who focused on conveying their policy with simple, transparent and helpful language. Policies deemed “very friendly” typically had step by step returns guides and had uncomplicated and simple to read language.

There was also a direct correlation between the tone of the return policy and how personalised the shopper felt their return process was. When shoppers were asked to give an opinion on the friendliness of the return policy tone, we found that when policies were deemed “unfriendly” or “not very friendly,” those shoppers gave a negative response to questions about how personalised they found the return experience. In short, shoppers hate feeling like “just another number”.

On the flipside, our study found that shoppers rated H&M and ASOS’s returns policies to be most friendly. Topshop had the most to offer from an in-parcel experience and shoppers loved the helpful and clear returns advice contained in the resealable package.

Where there were return-related documents within the parcel, 82% found the overall experience very convenient. Many retailers fail to see the potential to upsell during the return. Retailers have a great opportunity to include selected offers within the returns documentation to ensure the last touch point they have is a positive one and encourages the customer to shop again.

Here are some key observations about how the different sectors differ:

  • Beauty and Skincare retailers have a long way to come to reach the standards of the fashion industry. Only 1 in 6 beauty retailers advertise their return process visibly during the checkout, while the other 83% required shoppers to contact their customer service in order to request a return. Unsurprisingly, this resulted in 60% of our shoppers finding the experience inconvenient. One shopper told us “There was no return advice in the parcel, just an address to use and very little other information, just a website link and the website didn't have a registration option. I found this very inconvenient.
  • Within the Fashion sector we found that 95% of shoppers were satisfied with the order delivery process and communication, but this dropped to 80% when asked about the return methods.  Free returns was a big driver in this sector, NPS jumped from 12 to 42 in cases when fashion retailers offered this service. We heard time and time again that a positive experience resulted in increased likelihood for that customer to shop again, one shopper told us: “The free delivery and returns were great and it would encourage me to order more from this online retailer.”
  • The Fashion Sector had the best refund time (an average of five days, rather than six for Footwear or seven for Beauty)
  • Refund times were significantly faster for items which were collected (within three days) rather than returned by post office or drop off point (between five and seven days).
  • Footwear returns are the least customer friendly. While the process itself was quite convenient, shoppers felt the return processes lacked clear communication and were often not free of charge.

What’s clear is that the returns journey no longer takes place ‘beyond the buy button’ once a shopper tries the garment on and realises it doesn’t fit. Customers are already on that return journey when they are in consideration phase, retailers like ASOS and Gymshark actively use their flexible returns policies in their advertising and brand messaging, they realise this has the power to influence shoppers before they have even visited the website.

Once shoppers are in full browsing mode, displaying a clear policy becomes even more vital. Checking the return policy is now part of the purchasing decision and many retailers are falling down at this first hurdle, long before the customer decides to ship the product back.

Just 6% (12) of the brands we benchmarked in ‘The Great Returns Race’ are promoting their returns policy at all three key stages of the purchasing journey: Product page, Basket page and Checkout page. Returns should be a strategic decision reflecting a retailer’s commitment to providing the best customer experience possible.

Returns don’t need to move the earth, they just need to impress your customers. There’s a perception in the ecommerce industry that it’s enough to simply accept and process returns, a necessary evil associated to selling online. It isn’t anymore. Shoppers will reject a retailer if they have a bad return policy; a recent survey found that 60% of millennials said they have stopped shopping with a retailer because their returns was hard or unclear.

Words can be powerful, but many returns policies are failing to reflect retailer’s hard-won brand image in their returns messaging and in turn, failing to engage their customers. Stop letting the lawyers take the lead with these; it’s damaging retailers’ brands and needs to change. By nailing the policy right from the start, focusing on clarity and being as helpful as possible, brands could see huge boosts to customer satisfaction during the returns process, and consequently beyond.

By: Charlotte Monk-Chipman, Marketing Director, ReBound

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