The holiday season is a time for shopping and gift giving – and the New Year is the time for…returns and product return management for retail businesses. Shoppers return goods all year of course, but the post-holiday weeks see an increase in items coming back to stores.

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According to the National Retail Federation, the average return rate for 2022 is expected to come in at 16.5%* of all purchases – or $816 billion worth of goods. Over the Christmas season this increases to 17.9%**.

During the pandemic, online purchases had a higher return rate (20.8%)+ than those made in a brick and mortar store, but this year the playing field has levelled, and online and offline are generating the same level of returns.

Returns are here to stay

Returns are now a fact of life for many shoppers – they buy several items, expecting to return one or more. So much so, that retail returns management policy is an important factor in the shopper’s decision making – they are more likely to buy from a retailer that has a customer-friendly approach to bringing back unwanted goods. Over 60%++ of shoppers view a retail returns management policy before they make a purchasing decision and say that it influences where they shop.

Shoppers love retailers who offer free returns. But they are also looking for ease – and for the majority, that now means being able to return items to a brick and mortar store. In the past consumers wanted to mail back their return items, but now only 21%¶¶ prefer this method, with 54% favouring in-person retail returns management. they want a range of options too – including cash refund, store credit and replacement items.

Returns as an opportunity

Having to handle returns can certainly be a costly process but increasingly, retailers are seeing the opportunity that their retail customer returns management process offers, to:

  • Gain insights for inventory and purchasing planning.
  • Track return reasons, allowing them to improve processes – such as providing more accurate sizing charts, clearer product descriptions, or usage videos

  • Capture an alternative sale or additional sale, by bringing customers back into the brick and mortar store

  • Enhance customer loyalty and satisfaction – attracting new customers and retain existing ones

The value of a returns management system

The right returns management system can make a very real difference to retail returns management – helping to provide insightful data, reduce time and costs, and improve customer service and loyalty.

An enterprise-grade retail management solution with multiple functionalities integrated into a single platform delivers the most effective returns management system. It will include:

  • Return Management POS software, with functionality to help staff handle returns quickly and efficiently. This means that customers are not kept waiting when they return their goods, and workers aren’t tied up with product return management, but have more time free to help shoppers select and buy their replacement item. Ideally look for a POS that allows store staff to process a return within one or two screens and as few keystrokes as possible.

  • Return management in eCommerce – a website platform that incorporates straightforward product return management options and a clear description of the returns policy at the checkout. Knowing delivery times and the returns process is a proven deciding factor in reducing cart abandonment.

  • Customer loyalty program – a customer loyalty program with shopper details helps to personalise the returns experience. With so many consumers now earning and using points when they shop, it’s also important to be able to update their customer loyalty profile with credit refunds or exchanges and the appropriate updates to the customer file.

    The right returns policy and process can actually enhance customer satisfaction and spend, and a customer loyalty program will show, for example, if there are any correlations between customers who return the most and those who spend the most. This information can be used to tailor and improve the returns approach.

  • Return analysisdata about returns can provide invaluable insights, such as which products are returned most frequently and why. This helps retailers to improve processes and make key purchasing decisions. A retailer might decide, for example, to discontinue stocking a regularly returned item, or to provide more detailed sizing charts or product descriptions if ‘incorrect fit’ (the most commonly cited return reason) or ‘didn’t match description’ is a consistent reason for returns.

  • Inventory – once goods are returned, retailers need to be able to make them available for resale as quickly as possible. They need a way to rapidly update their inventory management system, and have a single view of inventory across goods in a brick and mortar store or warehouse.

Customers will always want to return purchases. A returns management system turns the process into an opportunity for increasing customer satisfaction.

What are the best practices to manage returns?

Best practice is to see returns management as an opportunity to enhance customer experience, and to make sure that your policy aligns with what your customers want. You need to understand whether your customers value free returns, or whether they will pay a fee. You’ll need to understand whether to offer mail in or in store returns, and whether to offer store credit or money back. It’s also essential best practice to be upfront about your policy, publicising it clearly and making it a differentiator and a reason to shop with you.

What is the role of POS software in retail store returns management?

The point of sale software – whether in the store or online – must be able to identify the goods, and process the customer’s refund, based on whether they paid full or a discounted price. It must make the customer-facing part of the process as rapid and smooth as possible, but also integrate all the updates in the back-end systems – financial records, loyalty program and inventory records.

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