The Impact of Attachment Styles on eCommerce Returns
Rebecca Fox

April 25, 2023

When customers shop online, they form attachments to the stores they buy from. These attachments are influenced by their attachment styles, which are patterns of behavior formed in childhood.

By understanding the different attachment styles and how they can impact customer behavior in returns, you can optimize your returns process and better serve your customers.

Just a heads up before we dive into this topic – while we enjoy exploring psychology-related ideas, we’re not licensed psychologists or experts in the field; we simply find it to be a fascinating subject to discuss. So while we may not have all the answers, we hope this provides some food for thought.

Attachment Theory and Customer Behavior in Returns

Attachment theory is a psychological theory that explains how humans form emotional bonds with others and how they manage their relationships.

Just like any other relationship, the relationship between a customer and an eCommerce store involves interactions, communication, and a level of trust.

When it comes to online product returns, customers’ attachment styles can play a role in their behavior and emotional responses to the returns process.

The four main attachment styles in attachment theory are anxious, avoidant, disorganized, and secure.

Each of these attachment styles can impact how customers behave when they return an item, and attachment theory has been shown to predict important marketing metrics such as repurchase intention, loyalty, trust, and positive word-of-mouth. 

By understanding how attachment styles manifest in your customers, you can tailor your returns process to better serve their needs and ultimately build stronger and longer-lasting customer relationships. 

Attachment Styles and How They Relate to Returns

Most adults are considered to be securely attached, meaning that it is relatively easy to find relationship partners, develop trust, and form close relationships characterized by stability, intimacy, and satisfaction.

However, there are customers who may have other attachment styles that impact their behavior when it comes to returns. 

By understanding the different attachment styles and how they can impact customer behavior in returns, you can tailor your returns process to better accommodate the needs of all customers and improve their overall experience.

Let’s break down each attachment style and how it manifests in returns, and see how you can adjust your returns process to suit each style.

Anxious Attachment (Preoccupied)

Anxious attachment is characterized by a fear of abandonment and a need for constant reassurance. 

People with an anxious attachment style tend to have a high need for validation and reassurance in relationships. They may worry about being rejected or abandoned and seek constant contact and closeness with their partners. 

Customers with an anxious attachment style may have similar needs for validation and reassurance. They’re more likely to seek out customer service support and need clear communication throughout the returns process to feel secure. 

Anxious customers are also more likely to experience anxiety or distress when returning a product, as it may trigger feelings of rejection or abandonment.

Steph Anya, a licensed marriage and family therapist, says “When I see adults who have this anxious attachment style, those are typically adults where if a person hasn’t texted them back they’re freaking out, they’re anxious, they’re thinking that person is going to abandon them. 

They’re the kind of person that really tries to read between the lines. They might be easily hurt or offended, and sensitive, because they’re always looking for cues that a person might reject them or reject their needs.”

So too, in eCommerce, customers with an anxious attachment style may be worried that their return won’t be approved, and might need additional reassurance from customer support.

This can include sending automated emails to confirm receipt of the returned product, providing regular updates on the status of the return, and offering personalized support and reassurance. 

Avoidant Attachment (Dismissive)

People with an avoidant attachment style tend to prioritize independence and self-sufficiency in relationships. They may have difficulty with emotional intimacy and may withdraw or become distant when faced with conflict or emotional expression. 

Customers with an avoidant attachment style may be less likely to seek out customer service support and may prefer a more self-service approach to returns. They may also be more likely to avoid returning products altogether and may prioritize finding alternative solutions on their own.

Provide a self-service returns process to make customers with an avoidant attachment style feel more comfortable, enabling them to go through the whole returns process on their own, using a self-service return portal and automated notifications.

By respecting the customer’s need for independence and self-sufficiency, you can help customers with an avoidant attachment style feel more empowered and in control.

Disorganized Attachment (Fearful-Avoidant)

People with a disorganized attachment style tend to have conflicting or inconsistent patterns of behavior in relationships. They may experience fear or distrust of their partners, while also seeking out their closeness and affection. 

Customers with a disorganized attachment style may have difficulty navigating the returns process and may experience mixed emotions about returning a product. 

They may need more personalized support and reassurance throughout the process to feel secure and may have a higher likelihood of experiencing anxiety or distress when returning a product.

They may also struggle to communicate their needs and concerns, which can lead to more misunderstandings and conflicts.

It’s important to provide personalized support and reassurance throughout the returns process for customers with a disorganized attachment style. 

This can include assigning a dedicated customer service representative to handle the return, offering flexible options for return shipping, and providing clear instructions and expectations for the process. It may also be helpful to follow up with the customer after the return has been processed to ensure that they are satisfied with the outcome. 

By demonstrating consistency and reliability, you can help customers with a disorganized attachment style feel more secure and confident.

Secure Attachment

People with a secure attachment style tend to have a strong sense of self-worth and value healthy relationships based on mutual respect and trust. They are comfortable with emotional intimacy and have effective communication skills in relationships. 

Securely attached customers have been found to show a strong desire for close relationships with companies and can be effectively targeted with social relationship programs.

When it comes to returns, customers with a secure attachment style are more likely to be more optimistic and trusting. They value clear and consistent communication and are more likely to seek out customer service support if needed. 

Customers with a secure attachment style are more likely to find it easy to navigate and complete the returns process with minimal issues. It is also more likely that they will have a positive experience in general, making them great candidates for leaving reviews and providing feedback.

The Role of Trust and Connection in Reducing Returns

Trust and connection are crucial components of any relationship, including the relationship 

between stores and customers. 

Building trust and connection can help reduce return rates by encouraging customers to feel more comfortable with initiating a return, and making them less likely to have a negative experience.

You can cultivate trust and connection with customers through returns management strategies such as offering personalized support, transparent communication, and an easy-to-use returns process.

“Attachment styles are valid predictors of important marketing measures, such as repurchase intention, loyal behavior, commitment, trust, and positive word-of-mouth. 

Additionally, there are indications that high levels of attachment anxiety and avoidance lead to negative consumer behavior after a consumer-firm relationship comes to an end.” 

The International Review of Retail, Distribution and Consumer Research, Volume 33, 2023 – Issue 1

Applying Attachment Theory to Returns Management

Apply attachment theory to your returns management strategies by tailoring them to the different attachment styles. 

For example, you can use data analysis to identify patterns in return behavior and offer personalized support and communication to customers with attachment styles that need extra support and reassurance. 

Ideally, you want to focus mostly on targetting customers with a secure attachment style, as they’re more likely to form social bonds and trust in relationships, making them valuable assets for your eCommerce store.

To effectively target this customer segment, identify customers who have a secure attachment style. This can help you create an efficient returns process, as these customers are most likely to have a positive return experience and maintain long-term relationships with your store.

Store attachment, or attachment to a store, has a big influence on people’s interactions with a store. Attached customers are more likely to return to the store, spend more, and are more likely to be proactive.

Take the time to assess your customers’ attachment styles and adjust your products and services accordingly, to create a loyal customer base and drive sustainable growth for your business.

Use Attachment Styles to Improve Your Returns Process

By understanding these different attachment styles, you can better anticipate and manage customer behavior in product returns.

Now that you know how attachment theory can impact customer behavior in returns, and the role of trust and connection in reducing returns, you can apply attachment theory to your returns management strategy and be more effective in your communications.

The relationship between a customer and an eCommerce store is multifaceted, involving interactions, communication, and a level of trust. By prioritizing the customer’s experience, communicating effectively, and building trust, you can foster strong relationships with customers and ultimately drive long-term business success.

Related Posts
How E-commerce Returns Impact Your Accounting

How E-commerce Returns Impact Your Accounting

One of the main pain points for e-commerce stores is offering returns to customers while maintaining the business’s financial health and accounting processes. Having a clear understanding of how returns impact your accounting is crucial for keeping your records...

Streamline your return process and ensure a great post-purchase experience for your customers.