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Revving Up Returns: The great returns race is on, don’t let your international returns policy slow you down.

September 30, 2015

ReBOUND wrote this article for the September issue of E-Delivery Magazine, where we highlighted the importance of focusing on the return policy and process to succeed cross-border...


We know that online returns in the apparel sector can represent up to 30%-40% or more of the initial ‘sales’,* so the economic impact of failing to deal with returns efficiently can be eye-watering. In addition to the volume of returned stock, there are significant challenges of maintaining positive brand perceptions, customer experience and loyalty to contend with too - as a mere 5% of shoppers said they would continue to buy from an online retailer again after receiving poor service.** These challenges will continue to intensify as cross-border growth increases, unless steps to improve the policy and process are taken.

If we consider the consumer return journey to begin before they even decide to checkout (74% of shoppers will inspect the returns policy before buying)***, then the international returns policy becomes all the more important to get right. Independent research conducted by the ReBOUND team encouragingly shows that 82% of the top UK fashion brands sites have a returns policy reminder within each product page, but only 20% enforced their policy in the basket stage to encourage customers to checkout****. Using a hassle-free returns message to support consumers purchase decisions at every opportunity can help to decrease shopping cart abandonment. This is particularly important for international visitors contemplating buying from a foreign seller.

Having a localised marketing prompt to inspire confidence in the ease of the returns experience can give customers that extra nudge to buy more if they know how easy it is to send back when they change their mind.

Lacking Clarity
Whilst the use of return policy within the product pages is promising, the message being promoted however is not so reassuring. The ReBOUND study shows that between 10% and 11%**** of brands do not have a clear returns policy for international customers - these policies lack clarity as they do not explain how international shoppers will be able to return their items before they checkout, which isn’t ideal if they do not know how to return until they have made the transaction.

The study also found that 82% of the top UK fashion brands simply have a blanket returns policy for their international customers without distinguishing between different markets. For example, European shoppers demonstrate a distinct preference for making purchases from retailers that offer the ability to buy online and then return in-store - 52% of shoppers across Europe state that this was in fact the single most important factor when choosing an e-retailer!

This is an important purchase decision-driver for online shoppers in France and Italy in particular at 58% and 59% respectively*****, so British brands who do not have an international store presence should consider allowing returns to parcel drop-off points (PUDOs) as a happy medium to support cross-border sales in these markets. Leading The Pack From 132 apparel brands in the ReBOUND study, 24 of these retailers were found to be leading in the cross-border returns space by offering more focused returns policies to account for different countries. The key regions which were found to have the greatest return focus were USA (with 17 brands differentiating their returns policy for American consumers) followed by Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain and Canada. The brands which are beginning to offer free returns policies in cross-border markets too is rising. 17% are offering free returns to a selection of international shoppers and a surprising 2% already offer free returns worldwide! But as far as choice of return method is concerned, less than 20% of brands offered international shoppers a choice of how to return their purchases beyond a standard postal return.****

So although we’re seeing increasingly generous policies, flexibility is still found lacking except for 13 of these brands which are racing ahead in the returns space by ticking the box for both a free return policy and a choice of return method.

You can view the digital version of the magazine here.

* ‘The Perfect Return’ Access, 2015
** ‘Rethinking Online Returns’ StellaService, 2014
*** ‘Pulse of the Online Shopper’ UPS/Comscore, 2012
**** ReBOUND researched the IRUK 2014 Top 500 online retailers and looked at the retailers of UK origin selling apparel products only, which gave us a pool of 132 brands. Research was conducted between 7th August – 14th August 2015.
***** ‘The Pulse of the Online Shopper Study’ UPS, 2013