27 Innovative Ways to Make Returns a Competitive Advantage 
March 05, 2023
by Rebecca Fox

Returns are an inevitable part of any eCommerce business, but they don’t have to be a headache. In fact, if handled correctly, returns can actually become a competitive advantage. 

Here’s an extensive list of innovative ways to make returns a competitive advantage for your eCommerce store and stand out from the competition.

27 Innovative Ways to Make Returns a Competitive Advantage 

1. Personalize the Return Experience

Making returns more personalized can make a big difference for customers. Personalize the return process by providing personalized messaging and offering return options that suit the customers’ preferences. 

Customers appreciate a personalized return experience because it makes them feel seen and cared for, and people prefer shopping at stores that make them feel seen as individuals at every step of their journey. In fact, 80% of customers are more likely to make a purchase when provided with a personalized experience.

You can provide tailored suggestions for replacement products by tracking customers’ returns and purchase history. For example, if a customer often returns shoes due to sizing issues, suggest a different size or style that may fit better. 

Personalization can also extend to the branding of the return process, creating a cohesive and positive experience for the customer.

Only 15% of stores offer personalized customer experiences, so now is the time to get ahead of the competition by personalizing your return process.

2. Provide a Self-Service Return Portal

Self-service return portals give customers the ability to initiate and track their own returns. 81% of customers want more self-service options, which is why providing self-service returns is so important. Customers who can issue return requests on their own will be more satisfied with their experience.

An online return portal can reduce the time and resources needed to process returns, freeing up your customer service team to focus on other tasks. 

Additionally, you can increase customer satisfaction and reduce the likelihood of negative reviews by providing a self-service return portal, since customers appreciate having control over their return process and appreciate the ability to track their returns in real-time.

3. Offer Buy Online, Return In-Store (BORIS)

Buy Online, Return In-Store (BORIS) is an increasingly popular option for returns, that offers customers the convenience of returning online purchases in-store. 

This can improve the customer experience by providing customers with a physical location to return items, which can be more convenient and cost-effective for both the customer and your store. 

BORIS can also increase foot traffic to physical stores, leading to potential upsells and cross-sells. 

Additionally, BORIS enables you to check returned items on the spot, giving customers an immediate resolution to their issues and reducing the time it takes to process the return.

4. Provide Fast Refunds

Fast refunds can help build trust with customers and improve the overall return experience. Nowadays, customers expect immediate results and quick turnaround times – including for refunds.

Having a slow and complicated refund process can cause frustration, damaging customer trust, while a fast and efficient refund process can increase customer satisfaction and the likelihood of repeat purchases. 

Customers are 77% less likely to recommend your store if the refund process takes too long.

The best way to process refunds quickly is by providing instant refunds using an instant refund solution such as Refundid and Reveni, which enable you to refund customers instantly.

By providing fast refunds you can reduce the stress and uncertainty that often comes with returns. The refund experience may be a deciding factor in whether a customer will shop with your store again, so speeding up your refund process is important.

5. Encourage Exchanges

Providing easy exchanges can turn returns into a positive experience for customers. By offering exchange options, you can reduce the likelihood of losing the sale altogether. 

You can also provide personalized exchange options that match the customer’s preferences and purchase history, which can lead to upselling opportunities. 

For example, if a customer returns a dress due to sizing issues, you can suggest that they exchange it for the same dress in a different size. 

Exchanges are more profitable for your store because instead of refunding customers, you retain the revenue that would have been lost.

Encouraging exchanges and providing an easy exchange process can lead to a higher customer satisfaction rate and can help you maintain positive customer relationships.

6. Provide Pre-Paid Return Shipping Labels

Provide pre-paid return shipping labels to reduce the hassle for customers so they don’t have to go out of their way to find a shipping provider or pay for return shipping costs out of their pocket. 

With pre-paid return shipping labels, customers can simply print out the label, attach it to the package, and send it back without any additional costs. 

Return shipping labels include information such as: 

  • Shipping carrier and service type. 
  • Sender and recipient information and their addresses. 
  • Shipping barcode and/or QR code. 

Pre-paid return shipping labels help prevent errors because if customers have to figure out how to return the item themselves, they might fill out the return address incorrectly or use incorrect postage, which could lead to the package being sent to the wrong place.

Return shipping labels are scanned at every stage of shipment until the package reaches its destination. Using ReturnGO to integrate with carriers and generate return labels, you can track the status of your return shipments and stay up-to-date in real-time.

7. Make Returns as Easy as Possible

The ideal return process encourages customers to come back to your store again and again instead of looking for another store to buy from. 

When the returns process is too long and complicated, customers are likely to give up and keep their unwanted items, and not buy from your store again. Earn your customers’ trust by showing them that if they need to return or exchange an item they can do so quickly and easily.

To make returns as easy as possible, provide clear instructions on how to return products and provide an online return portal where customers can easily request a return or exchange without needing to contact customer service.

Self-service return portals reduce the likelihood of miscommunication, speed up the returns process, and give your online store a competitive edge.

By making returns easy you make customers more comfortable about buying from your store, as they know they can easily return the item if it doesn’t meet their expectations. 

8. Collect and Implement Customer Feedback

Listening to what customers have to say about their return experience can help you identify pain points and opportunities for improvement. 

Getting feedback from customers can help you improve the returns process and make it more customer-focused, resulting in higher customer satisfaction.

You can collect customer feedback through surveys, social media, or other channels, and then use that feedback to implement changes in your returns process. 

For example, if customers consistently report issues with the pre-paid return shipping labels, you can work to address those concerns and improve the label design or shipping provider. 

9. Use Returns as an Opportunity to Build Customer Loyalty

Returns can be a great opportunity to build customer loyalty. By handling returns with care and attentiveness, you can show customers that you value their business and are willing to go above and beyond to ensure customer satisfaction.

For example, if a customer has a defective item, offering a replacement or repair at no cost can be a powerful gesture that demonstrates your store’s commitment to customer satisfaction. 

Having a loyal customer base is one of the most valuable assets an eCommerce store can have, given that loyal customers spend an average of 67% more per purchase than new customers.

By using returns as an opportunity to build customer loyalty, you can keep your customers coming back to your store and strengthen customer relationships.

10. Offer Gift Returns

Gift returns enable customers to easily exchange gifted items without involving the original purchaser.

People often receive gifts of clothes and accessories, only to discover the sizes are wrong and then the gift recipient ends up stuck with a gift that they can’t use. 

When buying gifts in a physical store, gift receipts are usually included so that recipients can exchange whatever doesn’t fit or they don’t like. Even though more and more people do their gift shopping online nowadays, many online stores don’t offer online gift returns. 

This gives you an advantage if you choose to offer gift returns and exchanges, as it can make gift shopping less stressful and make it more convenient for gift recipients.

Make sure your return policy clearly explains how gift returns work, so customers know what their options are.

11. Deliver an Omnichannel Customer Experience

Customers expect a seamless and consistent experience across all channels. This is especially true for returns. 78% of customers use multiple channels to start and complete a transaction.

By offering an omnichannel experience for returns, you can differentiate yourself from competitors and build customer loyalty.

Provide flexibility by giving customers the option to return items through multiple return methods and offer a range of refund options, such as store credit and exchanges.

Create a consistent branded experience across all channels by being consistent in language, fonts, colors, and messaging.

A return management system like ReturnGO provides an omnichannel solution by streamlining the returns process and providing a consistent brand experience across all channels.

12. Analyze Reasons for Returns

Analyze why customers are returning items, in order to make informed decisions about product design, marketing, and customer service.

For example, if a particular product has a high return rate due to sizing issues, you could add more detailed sizing information to product pages or offer free variant exchanges.

Looking at common return reasons can also help you identify potential issues with product quality, customer service, or shipping, and address them before they become major problems.

By collecting customer feedback and analyzing the reasons for returns, you can gain valuable insights into customer behavior and use this information to make informed decisions that improve the returns process and build customer loyalty.

13. Offer a Clear Return Policy

Make sure that your return policy is clear and easy to understand. Customers want to know what they can expect when it comes to returning items, so it’s important to clearly outline your return policy

Your return policy should include information such as:

  • The length of time customers have to request a return.
  • Refund and exchange conditions.
  • The products that are eligible for return.
  • Steps for customers to request a return.

When writing a return policy, make sure to be specific, use easy-to-understand language, and make sure it reflects your brand values and voice.

A clear return policy helps build trust with your customers. When customers know that they can easily return items if they’re not satisfied, they’re more likely to make a purchase in the first place.

14. Make Your Return Policy Easy to Find

Beyond writing a clearly-defined return policy, it’s important to make it easy to find. Customers shouldn’t have to hunt around to figure out how to make a return or what the conditions are.

Your return policy should be prominently displayed in your website’s header or footer. Consider also including a link to your return policy on your product pages and on your checkout page to make your return policy easily accessible throughout the online shopping journey.

By making your return policy easy to find, you reduce the friction of making a return. Customers will appreciate the fact that they can quickly and easily find the information they need.

15. Accept Returns Through Multiple Return Methods

Make the return process more convenient by offering multiple return methods for customers to choose from.

Return methods specify what the customer should do with the products that are being returned or exchanged. You can offer a variety of return methods such as shipping the products back, returning them to a store location, or donating them.

Some customers may prefer to return items in person, while others may prefer to ship back items by mail or take them to a drop-off location. 

Offering returns through multiple return methods gives customers the option of returning products in a way that’s convenient for them.

16. Automate Your Returns Process

Automating your returns process can be a game-changer for your eCommerce store, especially if you’re dealing with a high volume of returns. 

A returns management system like ReturnGO can help you streamline your returns process and make it more efficient.

Using automation to manage returns and exchanges takes the hassle out of managing return requests while also improving the customer experience.

Benefits of automating the returns process include:

  • Reduced risk of errors – Managing returns can be complex, with a lot of moving parts. Automating the process reduces the risk of errors and ensures that returns are processed accurately and efficiently.
  • Faster returns processing – Rather than manually processing returns, you can automatically generate return labels, approve returns, and issue refunds, freeing up your team to focus on other tasks.
  • Improved customer experience – By automating the returns process, you can improve the customer experience, as customers can initiate a return online, receive a return label, and track the status of their return all from one platform. 

Automating the returns process gives your eCommerce store a huge competitive advantage because it enables your business to react quickly and smoothly to return requests and process returns efficiently. 

Automated returns are the future of eCommerce, and having an automated returns process is a must for any eCommerce store that wants to stay competitive and keep its customers happy.

17. Provide a Realistic Return Window

There is no right or wrong length for a return window, so it’s really up to you to decide how long to give customers to return items. Offering an extended return window or setting specific conditions for products or categories can give you a competitive advantage.

For example, Zappo offers a 365-day return window, which makes it stand out and is one of its unique selling points.

Use your return window to stand out from other eCommerce stores by creating a positive customer experience and setting clear expectations.

Things to consider when setting your eCommerce store’s return window:

  • Industry standards – Look at what your competitors are doing and what the standard return window is in your industry. If you give a longer return window than your competitors, that can give customers an incentive to buy from you instead of them.
  • The nature of your products – When setting a return window, take into account that products have different lifespans and usage cycles. For example, a return window of 30 days might be too short for a piece of furniture that customers might not assemble or use for weeks.
  • Shipping times – Your return window should give enough time for customers to receive the product, inspect it, and decide whether they want to keep it or return it.

Clearly communicate your return window on your website, in your marketing materials, and in order confirmation or shipping emails to set clear expectations. 

Make sure to be clear about the definition of the return window. Does it begin when an order is shipped or once it’s delivered?

Software like ReturnGO can help you implement your specified return window and automatically only accept eligible returns to make the process as smooth and efficient as possible.

18. Make Your Returns Process Sustainable

Sustainable returns can give your store a competitive advantage because they show that you’re committed to environmental responsibility. Customers today are more conscious than ever about the impact that their purchasing choices have on the environment

By focusing on eco-friendly returns, you’re sending a clear message that your business cares about the environment and is doing its part to be sustainable. This can make a powerful impression on customers and attract more customers who share those values.

How to make your returns more sustainable:

  • Use eco-friendly packaging – Reduce the amount of packaging that ends up in landfills by using eco-friendly packaging such as compostable or recyclable packaging or reusing packaging from returned products.
  • Recycle or resell returned products – Instead of sending returned products straight to the garbage, consider recycling or reselling returned products. This gives products a second life and reduces the amount of waste caused by returns.
  • Offset your carbon footprint – Offset your carbon emissions from return shipping by investing in renewable energy and reforestation projects through carbon offsetting programs.

Many customers are willing to change their buying habits and 72% of customers are even willing to pay more for sustainable products. 

As more people choose to shop at eco-friendly stores, taking action to be sustainable will encourage customers to choose your store over your competitors.

19. Communicate Throughout the Returns Process

Communicate with customers throughout the return process for a competitive advantage over other stores. By keeping customers informed and providing transparency at every step of the returns process, you can build trust, reduce frustration, and increase satisfaction. 

94% of customers are likely to buy again after having a positive experience with customer service.

How to communicate with customers throughout the returns process:

  • Provide clear return instructions – Clearly communicate your return policy, including any conditions or restrictions, to set expectations and avoid misunderstandings.
  • Send return status updates – Keep customers updated on the status of their return, such as when it’s been received, processed, and refunded, to reduce anxiety and uncertainty.
  • Offer multiple support channels – Make it easy for customers to ask questions and get help throughout the return process by providing multiple channels of support such as email and live chat.
  • Automate notifications – Use an automated returns management system such as ReturnGO to automatically send branded return notification emails and communicate with customers during the returns process. 

By keeping customers informed throughout the returns process, you can differentiate yourself from other eCommerce stores and build a reputation for providing excellent customer service. 

20. Offer Incentives for Certain Types of Returns

By encouraging customers to return certain types of items or providing rewards for returning items within a certain window, you can increase customer trust, drive repeat business, and reduce your return costs.

When customers feel that they are being treated fairly and are given additional incentives to make returns, they are more likely to choose your store over competitors.

With ReturnGO, you can automatically apply incentives or rewards based on certain conditions, such as bonus store credit or free return shipping for specific items, such as seasonal products or overstocked inventory.

Offering free return shipping or enabling customers to return items in-store in certain situations makes returns more convenient for customers while incentivizing them to return products in ways that are beneficial to your store.

21. Use Return Data to Improve the Returns Process

Tracking your return data can provide you with valuable insights that can help optimize your store and gain a competitive advantage over other eCommerce stores. 

Return data can provide valuable insights into customer behavior and preferences, helping you improve the return process and provide a better customer experience. 

By analyzing return data, you can identify patterns and trends in the types of items being returned, return reasons, and return methods used. 

For example, if you notice that a certain product is frequently being returned due to sizing issues, you can provide more detailed sizing information or turn to the manufacturer if there’s a recurring issue.

A returns management system like ReturnGO can help you efficiently analyze return data. With features like real-time analytics and insights, you can easily identify trends and patterns and make data-driven decisions to improve the return experience.

By using return data to continuously improve the returns process, you can create an exceptional customer experience that sets your store apart from competitors.

22. Track the Market

When you track the market, you can gain valuable insight into industry trends, customer preferences, and competitor offerings, helping you find ways to make your store better than your competitors. 

Ways to track the market:

  • Monitor competitors Keep a close eye on your competitors and what they offer to help you identify gaps in the market and opportunities to offer a unique experience. 
  • Track industry trends – Follow the latest trends in your industry and incorporate them into your business to stay ahead of the curve and appeal to customers who are looking for the latest and greatest.
  • Use customer feedback – Collect feedback from customers in order to identify areas that can be improved.

Tracking the market and staying up-to-date on industry trends is crucial for staying competitive in the eCommerce space. By offering something that your competitors don’t, you can differentiate your store and attract customers who are looking for something different.

23. Outsource the Reverse Logistics Process

Outsourcing the reverse logistics process can help you stay competitive in the eCommerce space by freeing you up from having to worry about how to manage your returns and exchanges.

Since reverse logistics is such an important part of eCommerce, it makes sense to outsource it to a reliable service provider. For example, a third-party logistics (3PL) provider is a company that can help you manage your logistics, including returns processing, validation, and restocking. 

Outsourcing your reverse logistics can help you provide a more efficient and reliable returns process for your customers. By partnering with a 3PL provider that specializes in returns management, you can improve the accuracy and efficiency of your returns process.

Less than half of retailers use a 3PL to handle returns, so outsourcing your reverse logistics can differentiate your store from your competitors who might still be struggling to manage returns in-house.

24. Prevent Return Fraud

Preventing return fraud can protect your store’s revenue, maintain customer trust, and save your reputation.

Return fraud is when customers intentionally abuse the returns process for personal gains, such as returning used or damaged items, items that weren’t purchased from your store, or items that were purchased with a stolen credit card.

It can be costly to deal with return fraud, both in terms of lost revenue and the resources required to investigate and prevent fraudulent returns. 

In the US retail industry, return fraud and return policy abuse result in around $24 billion in losses each year, accounting for an average of 8% of returns. 

To prevent return fraud, set clear expectations with a detailed return policy that outlines exactly what items are eligible for return and the conditions under which returns are accepted. 

Tracking and analyzing return data is also a good way to identify suspicious behavior and prevent return fraud. Identifying potential return fraud cases and taking appropriate action can help you prevent future fraud.

25. Encourage Customers to Donate Items

Encouraging customers to donate returned items instead of shipping them back to your store can lower your costs of processing returned items, and reduce the amount of waste generated by returns.

At the same time, customers can feel good about their return, knowing that their unwanted items are going to a good cause.

70% of customers say that a business’ involvement in the community influences their decision to buy from them.

Customers are increasingly looking for ways to support businesses that have a positive impact on society, and by offering a donation option you show your commitment to social responsibility and gain a competitive advantage. 

26. Give Bonus Store Credit

Giving bonus store credit for returns is a great way to incentivize customers to make future purchases and establish customer loyalty. 

By offering bonus store credit, you can incentivize customers to make additional purchases, rather than looking elsewhere. Customers are more likely to be loyal to a store that offers rewards and benefits, and bonus store credit can be an effective way to establish that customer loyalty.

With so many eCommerce stores vying for customers’ attention, offering bonus store credit can be a unique and effective way to differentiate your store and attract customers.

27. Offer Free Return Shipping

Offering free return shipping is a great way to show your customers that you care about them and will go above and beyond to make their experience a good one. 

When customers know that they can return an item without incurring any additional costs, they are more likely to make a purchase in the first place. 

One of the biggest benefits of offering free return shipping is that it can help build customer loyalty. Customers who have a positive experience with the return process are more likely to make future purchases and recommend your store to friends and family.

In spite of the fact that customers increasingly expect to not be charged for returns, less than half of eCommerce stores offer free return shipping, so offering free return shipping will give you an advantage.

Use Returns to Your Advantage

From personalization to automation to instant refunds, there are many innovative ways to make returns a competitive advantage. 

Take advantage of these strategies to get ahead in today’s fast-paced eCommerce landscape. 

By prioritizing the customer experience and finding new ways to stand out, you can make returns a competitive advantage for your eCommerce store.

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