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Returning to normal: what will retail returns look like in the future?

by Laura Gee

returning-to-normalAs the UK surpasses 3 months of being in lockdown, we’re all eager to see life return to normal and now that non-essential retail stores are starting to re-open, it seems like we’re heading in the right direction. However, whilst the reopening of stores is a welcome change to the lockdown restrictions, the way in which we shop will undoubtedly be altered. Here are some of our predictions for how shopping behaviours might change: 

If we look back at that pre-covid world, many fashion retailers were encouraging shoppers who purchased items online to return them in-store. And for good reason. An in-store return provides the opportunity to upsell in an environment where shoppers are able to try items on first. Figures show that shoppers using the in-store fitting rooms are 70% more likely to buy something, spend 2x more and return less. With t
his in mind, it’s unsurprising that fashion retailers typically have a 10% return rate for in-store purchases, compared to a return rate upwards of 30% for online.
However, to help control the spread of the virus, in-store dressing rooms are now a no-go zone, meaning the bedroom will become the new fitting room for in-store purchases as shoppers must take their purchases home before being able to try them on for size.
In recent years innovations such as Klarna and AfterPay have helped enable shoppers to 
mimic the in-store try-on experience as close as possible. So, trying on at home and then returning unsuitable items will be familiar territory for frequent online shoppers. For in-store purchases however, this becomes a much clunkier process. 
Under normal circumstances, having to return unwanted items to a physical store wouldn’t be a deal breaker. However, the current pandemic means the in-store return journey is likely to consist of waiting in long-queues and interaction with other people that could have otherwise been avoided. Considering shoppers will have already gone through this drawn out process to make a purchase in the first place, the journey is far from convenient.  
The solution? Provide shoppers who buy in-store a way to return their purchases online. There’s a huge opportunity to use receipts or e-receipts to direct in-store returns online instead. Retailers can utilise space on receipts to provide return instructions and QR codes or links to online returns portals, where a range of safe online return methods should be available.  

In the UK alone, ReBOUND can facilitate returns via AsdaToYou, Hermes, Royal Mail, Collect+, DPD and InPost, offering shoppers the ability to return during their weekly shop, have the item collected from their home, or return via lockers and parcel shops. 
Many retailers have already set-out plans to enable contact-free returns in-store, and whilst the process of making the return itself appears contact-less, there’s still the problem of shoppers having to go to crowded stores in the first place. With an online returns journey retailers are able to offer a greater variety of return methods, reduce overcrowding in stores, and provide shoppers a way to drop their purchases off at more remote, contactless locations.  
For home collection services, the process is as simple as registering the return online and leaving it on the doorstep. Alternatively, with return services such as InPost, shoppers are able to return via self-service lockers, remaining outdoors and away from others. There’s also the added benefit of lockers being a 24/7 service, allowing shoppers to make their return when they feel safe to do so, such as early in the morning or late at night. InPost has seen a staggering increase in locker usage since lockdown began, with usage up 300% since mid-March. 
Jason Tavaria, CEO at InPost UK commented, “Our 24/7 Lockers have helped communities stay connected throughout this difficult period. With a significantly less tactile retail experience in place now that shops are opening up, shoppers will be buying more items and needing to send back those they don’t want. Lockers provide not only a contact-free way to return but the experience is also hassle-free as there is no need to wait in line and you can return any time it suits you. Certainly for the near future, we expect the number of returns to continue to rise and the role of parcel lockers will become increasingly important to both shoppers and retailers." 

Pre-Covid we were already seeing a new trend emerge where retailers like ASOS, Boohoo and Zara switched to managing returns online in the UK. Whilst better for the environment to reduce paper waste, this shift to online returns instead of pre-printed labels carries with it the worry of printer access. And despite home electrical goods seeing the biggest increase in online orders during the first few weeks of lockdown, up nearly 70% YOY according to IMRG, you can’t count on every WFH setup having a printer, so new printer-less carrier services are now crucial.
With printer-less returns, shoppers receive a barcode or QR code that will be scanned at the drop-off/collection point, where the label will be printed for them. We’ve already seen an increase in retailers offering printer-less return options in the wake of the pandemic, and led by influential brands, so we anticipate these will become commonplace moving forward, and will become firm favourites amongst shoppers.
ReBOUND has a range of printerless services available globally, including in the UK, allowing retailers to switch to an entirely online returns journey, and shoppers don’t even need a printer anymore! If you’d like more insight into ReBOUND’s UK services, we’ve condensed the headlines into a 5 minute video. 
COVID-19 has caused significant delays in transit times and warehouse processi
ng for both outbound and return journeys meaning shoppers must wait much longer for their refund. Considering that ‘Where is my refund?’ queries are often the second highest generator of CS contacts, just behind WISMO (‘where is my order’) queries, retailers who do not offer rapid refunds may find themselves dealing with a Customer Service overload from impatient shoppers eager to get their money back. 
A clear benefit of managing returns online is that you get an early warning system, capturing visibility of what is being returned and why. This allows you to begin processing returns faster with instant refunds, or triggering a refund at ‘first-scan’ when you’re confident that the parcel is on it’s way back to you. Speeding up refunds when stock is slowing down might seem counter-intuitive. But with costs from supply chain delays quick to build up, it’s a great way to ensure your CS costs aren’t spiraling out of control too. 
A typical blocker for faster refunds is the concern that shoppers may clock on to the system and take advantage, or you may be issuing refunds to fraudulent returners. However, ReBOUND clients offering faster refunds typically see a rate of fraud less than 1%, the cost of which is marginal compared to the CS saving. 
Whether it’s due to the increasing demand for alternative return methods or decreasing patience for delayed refunds, both the online and offline retail landscape is set for a dramatic shift.  With 6/10 shoppers saying they will continue to buy as much online as they do today once the pandemic has passed, we expect that we’ll continue to see the landscape evolve over the coming months, and that many of these new behaviours and expectations are here to stay.  

If you’d like to learn more about the impact of COVID-19 and how ReBOUND can support your UK returns strategy, check out this 5 minute fix video on UK returns.
5 min fix
Tell me more about UK returns