When you’re growing a retail business, returns handling probably isn’t an area you’re terribly excited by. We tend to associate returns with damaged goods or delivery errors – and that means they’re relatively low on the list of priorities. 

The reality, however, is that e-commerce has fundamentally changed the game. The popularity of online shopping is accelerating rapidly, with US eCommerce brands seeing 44% growth in 2020 – thanks in large part to the Coronavirus pandemic. And this has serious implications for the importance of returns.

Prior to the pandemic, 25% of orders made online were returned – still more than twice the figures for bricks and mortar stores. But with the increasing volume and nature of online shopping in the post-pandemic world, businesses should anticipate an even higher number of returns in the coming years. 

Simply put, there is an increasingly strong case to be made that managing returns effectively is just as important for customer experience and bottom-line growth as the more traditionally emphasized elements of the supply chain. 

To understand what that means for your business, let’s first look at why online selling produces such a higher volume of returns. 

Buy before you try

Shopping online creates difficulty for consumers. Sure, they can choose from an unprecedentedly large range of goods. But they also lose the ability to ‘try before they buy.

Historically, this has always been a part of the shopping experience: testing the product out, seeing it in the flesh, and being able to assess it before parting with your cash. Ecommerce purchases are therefore far more likely to prove dissatisfactory – and be returned.  

For some – like apparel – return rates can soar as high as 40%. This is driven in part by a trend known as “wardrobing” or “bracketing”, where customers buy the same item in multiple sizes with the conscious intent of returning items that either don’t fit or aren’t quite what they expected.

The challenge for businesses is not to clamp down on returns as some have – with inevitable backlash. Instead, they need to provide a clear returns policy and a flexible, effective system that makes returns easy and builds consumer confidence.

How will your business cope with the rise of returns?

Much like free shipping, cheap and easy returns have become a critical piece of marketing for ecommerce retailers; flexible return policies are a primary reason why consumers are willing to take a risk and buy an item they have not had the opportunity to see in person in the first place.

Online sellers need to make sure they have the technology platform and operations in place to drive a great customer experience — even through a potential return.

As G2’s Co-Founder and CIO Julian Mitchell says, Customers need to know return details — upfront and before the sale. You need flexible return solutions that enable convenient and cost-effective returns so that you can enhance the brand experience on the forward side. And you need to execute operationally to provide credits or an advanced exchange, or you will be at risk of losing a customer for life.

If you’re struggling to keep up with the rise in returns, reach out to our team of Returns Management experts. Whether you’re a fast-growing brand or an established company with a large brick and mortar footprint, we can take care of your returns management so you can focus on what you do best- growing your business. For more information and resources check out g2rl.com or reach out to info@g2rl.com.


Written By:

Eric’s 25-year career has been entirely centered on supply-chain management, starting as an intern from Middle Tennessee State University, as an Inventory Control Specialist at the nations largest private-label healthcare manufacturing company.